Graeme McDowell continued his long awaited revival of late by firing a second successive 66 to sit just one shot off the lead at the halfway stage of the Italian Open.
The Northern Irishman carded five birdies in a blemish free round of golf to sit in a five-way share of second spot at 10-under-par, one behind Germany’s Martin Kaymer.
McDowell, who was appointed as a European Team vice-captain ahead of September’s Ryder Cup, made no secret of his desire to make the team outright himself last week at Wentworth and if he can keep up this momentum, who’s to say he won’t fulfil that ambition.
Surprisingly, however, the former US Open Champion was again less than thrilled with his overall game despite his lofty position.
“Today I didn’t play well again,” he admitted. “Really getting the ball around with some really good iron play and some good scrambling, you know, and feeling good on the greens.
“I think just coming here, having a little confidence. Looking around, knowing I’m one of the more experienced players in the field. Knowing that my best golf can compete here, and like you say, having played well on this type of golf courses in the past; change of scenery from the PGA TOUR, just feeling comfortable among guys I know here well and environments that bring back the old memories.”
Kaymer will be the man to catch and the German heads a truly world-class leaderboard at the halfway point after a brilliant second round of eight-under-par 63 saw him move one stroke clear of five fellow Ryder Cup stars at Gardagolf Country Club.
The German accelerated through the field with eight birdies and not a single dropped shot to post an 11 under total and steal a one shot advantage over Rafa Cabrera Bello (67), McDowell (66), Francesco Molinari (66), Thomas Pieters (67) and Danny Willett (67) in this the second Rolex Series event on the 2018 Race to Dubai.
With favourable scoring conditions set to continue into the weekend, any one of the 83 players who made the four under par cut could make a run at the title, but the focus of the huge Italian crowds will be on the final two groups of the third round with home hero Molinari, who is bidding to win a third Italian Open, joining Pieters and Willett in the penultimate match before Kaymer, Cabrera and McDowell complete the final round line up.
“It has been a while that I played that solid without making a mistake,” noted the German. “I think I was getting very close recently, but that positivity was missing on the golf courses because I haven’t had a lot of results recently. I have been playing well, I just couldn’t see a good score.
“Today my only goal was just trying to hit fairways. Because if you hit fairways, you have great chances. I drove it very well today and then a few putts went in on the last five, six holes, and then one of those rounds, they happen.
“It’s really exciting to see myself playing that solid. It was just a matter of putting the right mental attitude on to the golf course. I did very well the last two days.”
Molinari is certainly the man in form of the leading six players having won the season’s first Rolex Series event – the BMW PGA Championship – at Wentworth last Sunday.
Cabrera Bello, like Molinari, is simply one of the most consistent players on Tour, while the Major Championship-winning trio of Kaymer, McDowell and Willett (and to a lesser extent Pieters) are all making their way back to the very highest level having gone through some tough periods of loss of form over the last couple of seasons.
The old adage of form is temporary; class is permanent could have been written for any of those four, and it will certainly be hugely exciting battle for the Italian Open trophy over the weekend.
Meanwhile, Padraig Harrington fired a 66 of his own to comfortably make the cut at five-under-par. He’s one shot better off than
Greystones Paul Dunne who joined the three-time Major champion in his weekend planning after carding a second successive 69 to sit at four-under-par.