Japan's Noboru Sugai holds a four shot lead heading into the third round of the Senior British Open, presented by MasterCard, at The Royal County Down Golf Club in Newcastle, Northern Ireland.
The unheralded Japanese golfer produced his second successive four under par 67 to go into the penultimate round on eight under par 134 and with a lead that he did not believe he would have at the start of the championship week.
"It is unbelievable," said Sugai, who has won four times on the Japan Golf Tour and three times on the Japan Seniors Tour but has done little of note outside his home country.
"I have a four shot lead but maybe it should be 20. I will certainly be looking over my shoulder at the weekend."
Sugai started the second round with a one shot advantage over Scotland's Russell Weir and he quickly extended his lead with an outward half of 33 that included a brace of birdie twos on the 194 yard fourth and the 145 yard seventh holes.
The impressive Sugai added further birdies at the 479 yard par four 12th and the 421 yard par four 13th before finding the rough and dropping two shots to par on the 450 yard par four 15th.
That might have been enough to disrupt the concentration of some golfers but not Sugai who promptly retrieved the damage with successive birdies on the 375 yard par four 17th and the 528 yard par five 18th.
Sugai's nearest challenger is Scotland's John Chillas who produced his second successive 69 to finish the second round on four under par 138.
Chillas, the club professional at Glenbervie, who is making his debut in this Championship, recorded three birdies and three bogeys in an outward nine of 35 but then produced successive birdies on the 16th and 17th to move within sight of the Japanese golfer.
"It was a good finish," said Chillas. "Last year, I was 50 at the end of July so I missed out on playing here by four days. But now I'm enjoying it and I just want to go out and enjoy the weekend. There's still a lot of golf to be played."
The legendary American, Tom Watson, also has a great chance to win on his first visit to this prestigious Championship after producing the first bogey free round of the Championship. He recorded a two under par 69 that saw him finish the second round in a tie for third place with Canada's John Irwin.
The five-time Open champion began the day with a birdie on the 522 yard par five first hole and then fired 13 consecutive pars before securing his second birdie of on the 450 yard par four 15th hole. He concluded with three further pars to finish on three under par 139.
"It was a bit of a bore out there," admitted Watson. "I putted for 17 birdies and an eagle but the problem was I kept hitting it into about 20 or 30 feet so I didn't give myself too many opportunities.
"I'm a little bit annoyed because the golf course was there for the taking," he added. “But I played a solid round of golf. I hit the ball a lot better than yesterday so I can look forward to the weekend."
Irwin, a 56 year old from Prince Edward Island, Canada, came into this Championship with no great expectations, having missed the cut with rounds of 76 and 85 in his only previous visit to County Down two years ago, but that did not stop him producing a fine four under par 68 that included three twos on the par threes.
“Not bad for an old fella’,” he said. “When I came here, my sole aim was to see if I could make up for two years ago so shooting 71, 68 isn’t all that bad.
“Let’s just hope I can keep it going.”
Scotland’s Russell Weir, who went into the second round in second place, recorded a one over par 72 to drop back into a share of fifth place with another Japanese golfer, Katzunari Takahashi.
Takahashi recorded a 69 for a two round aggregate of 140, one shot better than South Africa’s John Bland, a man who has the unenviable record of having finished second three times in this Championship.
At the other end of the leaderboard, former Open and US Open champion, Tony Jacklin, improved on his opening 81 by six shots but still missed the cut with something to spare.
Other former European Seniors Tour winners to miss out included Bernard Gallacher (75, 78), Delroy Cambridge (79-74), Simon Owen (80-75), Manuel Ballesteros (77-78), Jim Rhodes (78-79), Gary Wintz (74-84) and Jeff Van Wagenen (83-84).
England’s Neil Coles, the winner of the recent Lawrence Batley Seniors Open at the age of 67 and 276 days, leads the race for the concurrent £3,000 Hardys Wines Super Seniors prize, awarded to the leading golfer aged 60 or over.
Coles added a fine one under par 70 to his opening 74 to go into the penultimate round sharing seventeenth place with America’s John Grace, England’s Keith MacDonald and Australia’s Ross Metherell.
Arthur Pierse from Tipperary will be the leading amateur for the second successive year after being the only amateur golfer to survive the halfway cut of nine over par 151.