Zander Lombard rediscovered his form in emphatic fashion to take a one shot lead into the weekend at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.
The South African arrived at the second Rolex Series event of the season having missed his last six cuts as he made some changes to his game, but he followed up an opening 64 with a 67 to get to nine under at Lahinch Golf Club.
England's Eddie Pepperell was Lombard's closest challenger, with countryman Lee Westwood, Mexican Abraham Ancer and Spaniard Jorge Campillo at seven under.
Lombard had his best result of the 2018 Race to Dubai as he finished in a tie for sixth at this event but he had to go back to the Qualifying School at the end of the season, finishing in a tie for first with Alejandro Cañizares.
After an encouraging start to the 2019 campaign, he has now made the weekend for the first time since March and was delighted to see his recent hard work paying off.
"I missed a few cuts coming into this week and it's been three months of hard work," he said. "I had to change a few things in my physique and how I swing the club so it's nice to see the hard work coming off and what a better place to see it happen.
"It's been really good golf, solid, and I'm just really enjoying being at the top.
"I'm so comfortable on links golf. It's never just a normal shot, it's always a little three quarter, a little punch, judging the wind right. I had a good amateur career on links golf and brought it over to my pro career as well."
Lombard birdied four of his last five holes in round one to sit one shot behind Padraig Harrington and with the overnight leader falling back with a 73, it was left to him and Pepperell to battle it out.
The 24-year-old birdied the second to take the solo lead but when he gave the shot straight back on the next, he was in a three way tie.
Pepperell had birdied the first and bogeyed the second before picking the shot back up from eight feet at the seventh to get to six under, while Ancer made a long putt on the 13th to go with birdies on the fifth and tenth and a bogey on the first.
A seven foot birdie on the 11th gave Pepperell the lead and when he rolled a putt up the slope and into the hole from off the green for an eagle on the 12th, he led by three.
Ancer put a tee shot to eight feet on the 16th to cut the lead to two and playing partner Campillo was just a shot further back as he birdied the tenth, 12th, 13th, 15th and 16th.
Pepperell dropped a shot on the 14th to see his lead cut to one and his playing partner Westwood was in a share of second, making gains on the seventh, eighth, ninth, 12th and 14th to bounce back from bogeys on the third and fourth.
Ancer dropped a shot on the 17th but made a birdie from tap-in range on the last - with Campillo repeating the trick - as Pepperell parred his way home to set the target.
After adding a birdie on the sixth and a bogey on the seventh to turn in level par, Lombard played a blind approach off the bank at the back of the tenth green and put his second to tap-in range on the 13th to share top spot.
He then hit the green in two on the last for a closing birdie and the solo lead.
Pepperrell has been out since the US PGA Championship with a back injury and much like Lombard, he was glad to be competitive again.
"I really had no idea where I was standing at so to have this performance through two rounds is certainly a nice surprise," he said. "I'm not hitting the ball perfectly but my short game has been feeling good. We'll just see how the weekend goes."
Andy Sullivan eagled the last in a 66 to sit at six under alongside Rolex Series champions Thorbjørn Olesen and Brandon Stone, Swede Niklas Lemke, Australian Wade Ormsby and South Korea's Hyowon Park.
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