Ross McGowan opened up a three-shot lead at the halfway stage of the Joburg Open after a stunning 62 put him in a strong position at Royal Johannesburg & Kensington Golf Club.
The Englishman finished fifth at the Qualifying School last year to regain his card after a series of injuries had stalled his career and was making the best of his second spell on The European Tour.
McGowan made his breakthrough in 2009 with a win at the Madrid Masters and finished second in the Dubai World Championship presented by: DP World a month later.
He lost his card in 2011 but, after finishing in a tie for 12th at the BMW SA Open hosted by City of Ekurhuleni last week, the signs are encouraging that his best form is returning.
After firing a 67 on the tougher East Course on Thursday he went even better on the West, with two eagles and six birdies moving him to 14 under, three shots clear of nearest challengers Felipe Aguilar, Jean Hugo, Haydn Porteous and Anthony Wall.
I played well yesterday and started well today, I opened up with two birdies. I went a bit flat for a few holes and then on the back nine, the fireworks happened - Ross McGowan
"I holed a wedge at 12 today which was nice and then I hit two great shots into the par five, so I had 15-20 feet there for eagle and managed to hole that one as well."
McGowan is no stranger to going low after firing a 60 on his way to victory in Spain six years ago, but he conceded that the thought of breaking the 60 barrier did not cross his mind on Friday.
"I think I would have needed to be a few shots better on the front nine to even consider it but I've been close before," he said. "In Madrid I shot a 60, so you never know. I'll try to go low again tomorrow."
The 33 year old opened with back-to-back birdies and picked up another shot on the seventh before giving it back on the eighth. He then birdied the ninth to turn in 33 and a further gain followed on the tenth.
An eagle then came on the par four 12th before a ten-foot birdie on the 14th and a second eagle of the day on the 15th opened up a sizeable gap.
He needed to show good skill and resolve to get up-and-down for par on the 17th and 18th and signed for an impressive nine under round.
Three places at The Open Championship are up for grabs this week with the top three players in the top ten not already exempt securing a place at Royal Troon.
And with just four of the weekend's field exempt, including Ernie Els who was right on the cut line at three under, every player playing on Saturday has a major incentive to go low.
Chilean Aguilar was blemish-free on Friday with birdies on the second, sixth, eighth, 11th, 15th and 17th in his 65 after joining McGowan with a 67 on the East Course in round one.
Wall finished in a share of second here last year behind Andy Sullivan and is once again in contention after an impressive finish on the East Course.
The Englishman began the day six under and made birdies on the first and fifth to turn in 35. He went bogey-birdie on the tenth and 11th and dropped another shot on the 14th but a brilliant curling putt for birdie on the 15th spurred him back to life.
That was followed by another birdie on the par three 16th and after putting his approach on the par five last to 12 feet, the 40 year old holed the putt to sign for a 67.
Home favourite Porteous was playing the West Course and he turned in 34 with three birdies and a bogey. Further birdies on the tenth, 13th and 15th then fired him up the leaderboard and he bounced back from a bogey on the 17th with another gain on the last to sit three off the lead.
A late surge from Hugo, who finished a place above McGowan at Q-School, had the South African on his own in second before a bogey on the last saw him drop into a share.
He started eagle-birdie and then recorded ten straight pars before a lengthy putt on the 13th handed him another gain. A two-putt birdie on the 15th and two good approaches on the 16th and 17th meant he was 12 under before a poor second shot on the last halted his momentum.
Welshman Stuart Manley, another Q-School graduate, was then at ten under after a 67 on the East highlighted by a chip-in on the 14th, alongside Swede Johan Carlsson who had five birdies and a bogey on the West.
Paul Dunne was playing in just his eighth professional tournament but the Irishman hit eight birdies in a flawless 63 on the West to sit at nine under with Erik van Rooyen, who signed for a 64, and overnight leader Justin Walters who battled to a 69.
Swede Björn Åkesson was also at nine under after coming home in 29 in his 64, alongside Richard Bland who had seven birdies and two bogeys in his round.
Two-time champion Richard Sterne was then at eight under alongside fellow South Africans Jacques Blaauw, Darren Fichardt, Zander Lombard and Tjaart van der Walt, Australian Jason Scrivener and Zimbabwean Mark Williams.