For the second successive day, Des Smyth took advantage of the most benign of conditions to post a round of 69 which saw the Irishman maintain his place at the head of affairs in the ISPS Handa PGA Seniors Championship.
At a sun-soaked De Vere Mottram Hall, in leafy Cheshire, Smyth plundered eight birdies to move to ten under par, two shots clear of Senior Tour rookie José Manuel Carriles and the English duo of DJ Russell and Paul Wesselingh, the winners in 2010 and 2012 respectively.
Smyth, who started his round on the tenth hole, turned in level par 37, but raced home in 32 thanks to a quintet of birdies.
He said: “It’s early season and I feel I’m really keen to play, which is why the birdies are flowing. But my game’s not quite tight enough yet, which is why I’ve made a few silly mistakes which I wouldn’t normally expect to make. But it’s only the first event of the season, so overall I’m delighted to have made so many birdies and I hope that continues.”
Russell’s round of 67 was all the more remarkable given that he was contemplating retirement only recently after suffering a trapped nerve in his neck, which rendered him immobile for a month.
A flawless display for the second successive day gave further credence to the theory that you should “beware the wounded golfer”, and moved Russell firmly into contention to add to his haul of two European Senior Tour titles.
He said: “I spent four weeks in a chair with a trapped nerve in my neck thinking I’d never play golf again, so this is an absolute pleasure. Three weeks ago I was given the all-clear to play, so I went over to the Senior PGA in America to test it. I had worried that playing might damage the disk, but thankfully everything’s OK in my spine.
“I’ve surprised myself at how well I’ve played, but maybe my expectations were low so the pressure was off. I’d love to have a repeat of my victory at the Open de Lyon on The European Tour in 1992, when I didn’t make any bogeys. The rough there was about as thick as it is here, so maybe that’s a good sign.”
His compatriot Wesselingh flew out the blocks in the afternoon, notching four birdies in his first six holes to climb to nine under par.
But the next 12 holes were a mixed bag, resulting in a round of 70 and an eight under par aggregate total at the midway stage of the £260,000 event.
He said: “It’s a bit tricky out there because I thought that once I got to the front nine – my back nine – I would be able to kick on and get into double figures [under par]; but with the wind that picked up the front nine was actually playing quite tricky, because you couldn’t really tell which direction it was coming from.
“I’m slightly disappointed with today’s round, but if somebody had said I’d be on eight under after two rounds at the start of the week, then I’d have to take it. It’s onwards and upwards tomorrow.”
Carriles, who was born in Pedreña, the same town as Seve Ballesteros, is making his Senior Tour debut this week after coming through the Qualifying School at the start of the year.
The Spaniard, who won the Challenge Tour Grand Final in 2003, eagled the first hole and collected five birdies to join Russell and Wesselingh on eight under par.
He said: “I’m very happy because I have started on the right foot on the Senior Tour.
“You have to think a about your strategy from the tee on this course, as the fairways are very hard and so the ball bounces a long way. But the greens are fantastic to putt on, so that makes life much easier.”
After a round of 68, American Mike Cunning is currently in fifth place on seven under par, one shot ahead of Paraguay’s Angel Franco (70), England’s Mark James (71) and Irishman Philip Walton (70).
Welsh Major Champion Ian Woosnam lies a further shot back after signing for a round of 69.