Spain’s Pablo Larrazabal hailed one of the best rounds of his career after claiming the halfway lead in the Spanish Open at a testing Valderrama.
A level-par 71 was enough to give Larrazabal a two-shot lead over England’s Andrew Johnston as a combination of swirling winds and firm greens sent scores soaring at the notoriously difficult former Ryder Cup venue.
Ireland’s Paul Dunne and Peter Lawrie battled the strong winds to survive the cut.
Dunne, who went out in the morning, reached the clubhouse with 76 on the card after two double bogeys, four bogeys and three birdies for +7 - which looked like a missed cut when the leaders were -7.
But as the testing conditions took their toll the projected cut moved four strokes in the afternoon and reduced the field to 61 players and included Dunne.
Peter Lawrie teed off late in the afternoon and reached the turn one over par after two bogeys wiped out the birdie on the par 3 third hole.
On the run for home Lawrie was focused on the cut line and four pars and a birdie on the eleventh, helped him on his way. Even consecutive dropped shots on the 13th and 14th saw the Dubliner looking safe.
However on the last a bogey five almost ended some good work in the tricky conditions with the round two 74 proving enough to ensure weekend play. At three and one under respectively, Larrazabal and Johnston were the only players to finish in red figures, with Mike Lorenzo-Vera and Peter Hanson the only players to break par with rounds of 70 as the cut fell at nine over par.
“It was an awesome day, one of the top three of my golfing career,” Larrazabal said. “To shoot level par today is like shooting seven or eight under on another golf course.
“This course is so tight, you are in a valley all the time between trees and the wind was swirling around and to trust a shot was tough.
“The targets are very very small, so to put yourself in position to make birdies is difficult. In a perfect day if you have 60 per cent (chance), today you have seven per cent.
“If I shoot two more rounds of level par I will win, but if the wind keeps blowing probably level par will win it.”
Larrazabal, who is looking to win his national Open for the first time, started his round on the back nine and birdied the 11th, 12th and 17th to move into the outright lead on six under par.
The 32-year-old then briefly doubled his advantage over overnight leader Alexander Levy by holing a curling 25-foot birdie putt on the first, only to drop his first shot of the day on the next after firing his approach over the green.
After getting a free drop from underneath a television tower, Larrazabal left his tricky downhill pitch 10 feet short and missed the par putt, but worse was to come on the next.
The four-time European Tour winner needed two shots to escape a greenside bunker on the par-three third, before compounding the error by three-putting from 20 feet for a triple-bogey six.
Defending champion James Morrison, Alejandro Canizares and Levy were all three shots off the pace, Levy adding a 76 to his opening 66 with Morrison and Canizares both shooting 75.
“I think that’s level par out there isn’t it?” Morrison said. “It was a hard round from the start.
“The wind was up and it’s a hard course in shorts and no wind, let alone with some breeze this morning and it was quite chilly too.”
Tournament host Sergio Garcia is six shots off the pace after adding a 71 to his opening 74, with two-time major winner Martin Kaymer a shot better off after a 75.
“Every day at Valderrama is tough, but today was definitely very testing,” Garcia said.
“It’s just a little disappointing to three-putt the last but other than that it was a pretty good day. I am not feeling 100 per cent, but I am trying my hardest.
“I don’t think we have played the course this firm since the early 2000’s.
“Anything under par or around par is going to have a good chance to win,” added Garcia.
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