Philip Price (Getty Images)
Nine years after winning the last of his three European Tour titles, Phillip Price put himself in a great position to add another with a second round 66 at the Trophée Hassan II.
The 45 year old Welshman, who etched his name into golfing folklore when he beat Phil Mickelson in the singles to help Europe win the 2002 Ryder Cup at the Belfry, moved to ten under par and goes into the weekend with a one shot lead in Morocco.
On a day when five-and-a-half hours’ play was lost to strong winds over half the field were unable to complete their second rounds, with overnight leader Damien McGrane completing only five holes.
Spain’s José Manuel Lara moved into solo second with a joint best-of-the-week 65, with Sweden’s Joel Sjöholm and South African James Kingston a shot further back - the latter with a hole remaining.
“I was delighted with that today and I was very surprised by how calm it became throughout the day after this morning,” said Price. “It was really windy when we started so to go out there and shoot six under is really pleasing. It was rather unpleasant this morning so very pleased.
“I had a 05:25 alarm call this morning and then a five-and-a-half-hour delay. Thankfully I managed to have a little 20-minute power nap in the locker room during the delay and that really helped. But it was frustrating to go to the tee twice and not be allowed to tee off because it is difficult to get yourself in the right mood and then be called off.
“By the time we got to the tee for the third time I wasn’t sure if we were going to be allowed to go, but thankfully it died down and, as I said, I managed to play very well. I thought it was going to be a real battle today but it calmed down and I managed to calm down and played some really nice stuff.”
He certainly did - starting on the back nine Price holed a five foot birdie putt at the 15th before chipping in from the bunker at the next.
A pitch to 12 feet helped him complete a hattrick of gains at the 17th, and there were three further birdies over the inward nine, including putts from 15 feet at the second and sixth holes.
“I am playing better which is great,” said Price, who has not finished in the top 100 on The Race to Dubai since 2004 and last year took the 118th and final card.
“It is nice to feel that way again because it has been a long time since I have been anywhere near the top of the leaderboard. I just have to go back and relax now and wait till I have to get out there again because they will obviously have to finish the second round tomorrow morning and I will have a very late tee off to the third round.
“I can’t actually remember the last time I was leading after two rounds – it might even be as long ago as the European Open that I won in 2003 so to be up there again is a great feeling.”
Like Price, Lara had a hattrick of birdies from the 15th, and eight in total as he chases a third European Tour title.
“What a day! I had a sleep in the physio bus with about five other players, two breakfasts and two lunches before I even hit one shot,” said the Spaniard. “But when we did get out there the conditions totally changed and it was only windy for about two of the holes we played. After that it was calm and I managed to play well and put a very good score together.
“I have been playing well and it was very good again out there today. I am feeling confident at the moment and would love to win here, especially on this golf course because it is very special.”
Sjohölm compiled a bogey-free 66, and put his success down to a red-hot putter.
“I putted well today and that is what I always have to do when I play well and shoot good scores,” said the 27 year old. “I am never that great from tee to green so for me to go low then I have to putt like a magician and thankfully the magic wand worked again today.
“It was also really great to be able to finish today because we were literally running down the 16th and 17th holes trying to get done before the hooter sounded to bring us off the course.
“I just love this place and this course. It is a real honour to be invited here and I don’t think people back home realise that it is more difficult to get a tee time on this golf course than it is to get onto Augusta.”
Italian teenager Matteo Manassero, needing to win to have a chance of climbing into the world's top 50 and qualifying for the Masters, is five behind following a 71.