Darren Clarke once again turned on the style on the back nine to post a three under par round of 67 and take a two-stroke lead into the weekend of The Senior Open Presented by Rolex.
The Northern Irishman leads on eight under par at Gleneagles, two strokes clear of American Scott Parel, after four back nine birdies saw him set the target before the temperature dropped in the afternoon and made it difficult for anyone to challenge his lead.
The 2011 Open Champion made the turn in one over par after bogeys at the second and seventh sandwiched a birdie at the fourth, before going on to mirror his back nine from the opening day with birdies at the tenth, 14th, 15th and 18th.
Clarke, who has three wins on the PGA TOUR Champions since turning 50, is in pole position to claim his first Senior Major Championship with two rounds to play, but he will need to fend off a star-studded leaderboard if he is to become only the fourth man to win both The Open Championship and The Senior Open.
Fellow former Champion Golfers of the Year Ernie Els and Pádraig Harrington, who will also bid to join Bob Charles, Gary Player and Tom Watson in completing the historic double, are three strokes back in a share for third place on five under par, alongside four-time Senior Open Champion Bernhard Langer, 2016 winner Paul Broadhurst, American duo Kent Jones and Jerry Kelly, Canadian Stephen Ames and South African David Frost.
The King’s Course provided a tough test over the first two days, resulting in the cut falling at three over par with 71 players surviving to compete over the weekend.
Darren Clarke: “Around the front nine today, I was so-so. I slipped. My right foot slipped a couple of times. But apart from that, I played really nicely. I’m trying to hit a lot of fairways and give myself decent looks. All the way around the back nine, I kept hitting nice shots. And could have been a few better. But, you know, it’s the way it is.
“There’s a few flags that were out there today as well that you just cannot go after. You’ve got to hit away from those as well. So they’re a little bit linksy as well.
“With the fairways being as good as they are, as tight as they are, you can really nip one. I got a little bit too much spin on the second shot into 17. But if you’re striking the ball, you can still spin it quite a bit.
“So it gives you opportunity. If you keep it in the fairway around here, you can score. But if you start missing the fairways, it’s going to be a struggle because you’re playing for fliers and the ball is releasing as much, you never know how far or short of the green or whatever. But the fact is so far I’ve done a decent job to get them on the fairways.”
Scott Parel: “Scrappy round today. I putted quite well. Didn’t hit the ball maybe quite as good as yesterday but in the condition, a lot tougher so very happy with 68.
“A little bit more wind and the tough holes are into the wind. No. 12 was a bear today. I hit every shot like I wanted and made a double-bogey. But that’s what you’re going to get here. The wind wasn’t up that much. The cooler temperatures I think kept the ball from traveling the way we were used to earlier in the week.
“It feels good. It’s been a little while since I’ve been in contention in a major. I’m looking forward to it. I don’t know what it’s going to be, probably eight, maybe nine, I don’t know. Just two more days and keep playing the way I’m playing.”
David Frost: “I struck the ball really well off the tee the last two days, both days, and made a few putts that got me under par. Made a few par putts to save me from making the bogeys out there.
“You know, I got over on Friday, played a couple of practice rounds. So I had a lot of golf up to today. I took Wednesday off. Played Tuesday. I’ve had a lot of golf. But it was — yeah, it was very gratifying making the qualifier.
“I had to sweat it out a little bit on the last hour there with three guys that jumped in there. But, yeah, you know, my daughter said to me one time, I said, I don’t think I’m going to qualify, she goes, Dad, that’s your job.
“So I’ve always seen it as my job, and I felt — I enjoyed the golf courses in Scotland, love the bounciness. It was nice to qualify and making the cut too. So a lot of fun out there.”