Only six players in the 168-strong field broke par on a miserable day at the Dunhill Links Championship, but Padraig Harrington and Lee Westwood still had reasons to be cheerful.
Returning to the Carnoustie course where he won the first of his back-to-back Open titles, Harrington played the front nine in 40 but came home in a superb 34 to end the day in a share of fourth place.
And Westwood bounced back from an even worse front nine, the Ryder Cup star dropping six shots in his first six holes to be out in 41, before coming back in 35 to rescue his hopes of ending the year as European number one.
Germany’s Martin Kaymer and Swede Jarmo Sandelin share the lead on six under par, with Sweden’s Magnus Carlsson a shot behind and Harrington among a four-strong group another stroke adrift. Westwood is four off the lead on two under par.
Harrington currently heads the Order of Merit by £180,000 from Westwood, who would have been £100,000 closer had he beaten Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano in a play-off for the Quinn Insurance British Masters at The Belfry last Sunday.
Sweden’s Robert Karlsson is third in the standings, another £100,000 behind Westwood, but with a first prize tomorrow of £432,000, the race remains wide open. Karlsson is sandwiched between Harrington and Westwood on three under after a 76.
Westwood, who last won the Order of Merit title in 2000, said: “It was tough, the wind was pumping out there.
“I was six over after six and struggling really. The course was playing tough at the start and you didn’t have to do a lot wrong really.
“I dug in though and was three under for the next six holes. Missing from six or seven feet for birdie on eight was the turning point as it was the first green I hit in regulation.
“It was a good birdie at nine and I missed a short one on 10 and had a good chance at 11, but made birdies at the 12th and 14th, gimme birdies today with the wind direction.
“I three-putted 16, which was a shame, but I parred the last two holes, which you can never complain about here. All in all, two under might be in with a chance.”