Ireland’s Pádraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell are within striking distance at the halfway stage of the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open at Castle Stuart.
Harrington and McDowell both fired rounds of 69 to lie three shots behind leader Alex Noren. Noren is 8 under par after a fine bogey-free round of 66 on day two.
Five birdies in the space of seven holes helped Noren card a flawless 66 to finish eight under par, a shot ahead of playing partner Eddie Pepperell (67) and New Zealand’s Danny Lee.
Manassero shared fourth place with Branden Grace, Richard Bland and Jorge Campillo, with Harrington and McDowell a shot further back.
“I’m very happy, any time you’re breaking 70 it’s good,” said Harrington.
Noren, who was eighth in the French Open last week, said: “I like this place. It’s a really fun course to play. Some weeks we play courses where it’s tough all the way around and here it’s kind of a really nice mix of tough holes and easier ones.”
Meanwhile Italy’s Matteo Manassero, the forgotten man of European golf, surged into contention for a first win in three years.
Manassero was the youngest winner in European Tour history when he claimed the Castello Masters in 2010 aged 17 years and 188 days and added further titles in each of the next three seasons.
The last of those came in the prestigious BMW PGA Championship in 2013 and helped Manassero reach a career-high of 25th in the world, but the 23-year-old arrived in Scotland a lowly 596th after just two top-10 finishes since the start of 2014.
A change of technique in pursuit of more length off the tee was initially to blame for the slump in form, but Manassero admitted it then became a mental battle to rediscover the kind of form he showed yesterday with a 67 to lie two shots behind halfway leader Alex Noren.
“It has been really hard with a lot of ups and downs, mainly downs,” said Manassero, who was just 16 in becoming the youngest winner of the Amateur Championship in 2009 and finished 13th in the Open at Turnberry a month later.
“I was feeling bad on the golf course. Every time I had an important or difficult shot I was missing it because of the (mental) approach. It’s something that starts with little things and when you have never really played badly before, it’s hard and you keep going down.”
Manassero missed 16 cuts in succession from last year’s Irish Open and was 893rd in the world rankings following another early exit from April’s Spanish Open.
Eddie Pepperell meanwhile had missed the cut in three of his last four events but has started to feel the benefit of working with a new US-based coach he has never met in person.
“It’s a guy called Dave Wedzik who I went with because he works with Bradley Dredge and I was so impressed with how well he hit the ball off the tee when we played together this year,” Pepperell, 25, said. “Driving has been my Achilles heel and if you can drive it well golf is so much easier.
“I send Dave videos and he sends back his analysis. I’ve put it in play on every hole for the first two days.”
Further down the leaderboard, 2013 champion Phil Mickelson recovered from two early bogeys to add a 69 to his opening 76 and make the cut with a shot to spare.
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