Bob MacIntyre has the leaders, including world No 2 Rory McIlroy, in his sights heading into the final two rounds of the HSBC Champions in China after the young Scot continued to shine on his WGC debut.
The 23-year-old from Oban sits joint-11th at the halfway stage in the $10.25 million tournament after adding a 69 to his opening 70 for a five-under-par total at Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai.
MacIntyre, the sole Scot in the elite field, is six shots off the lead, held by Englishman Matthew Fitzpatrick, who has McIlroy breathing down his neck after the Northern Irishman finished his second round with an eagle-3.
MacIntyre, who started the event with a double-bogey 6 on Thursday after being forced to take a penalty drop following his opening drive, produced a steady front nine in the company of American duo Kevin Kisner and Billy Horscel.
The left-hander, who sits seventh in the Race to Dubai in his rookie season on the European Tour, birdied the fourth and eighth to be out in 34 before taking his revenge on the tenth, where he’d started the first round.
Following a huge drive, he rolled in a 30-footer for birdie before backing that up by sinking one from a similar range at the next to move to four-under for the day.
MacIntyre, who has finished runner-up three times this year after graduating from the Challenge Tour 12 months ago, then made a good par save on the 14th before dropping two shots in the next three holes.
After being in trouble at the back of the green at the 15th, he produced a brilliant recovery only to see his par putt horse-shoe out then, after seeing a birdie putt lip out at the next, he also dropped a shot at the tough par-3 17th after being bunkered.
A birdie-4 at the last repaired some of that damage and, all in all, it was another good day’s work from MacIntyre, who is hoping he can climb into the top 50 in the world rankings before the end of the year after already breaking into the leading 100 over the past few weeks.
“I played great all day until those poor finishing holes,” he told The Scotsman. “I’m disappointed about that but, overall, I’m in a decent position heading into the weekend.”
With Kisner also standing on five-under and Horschel on four-under, it was one of the best groups over the first two days and MacIntyre will be aiming to rise the occasion once more when he heads out with Justin Rose and Tony Finau in Saturday’s third round.
McIlroy produced the shot of the day at the 538-yard par-5 18th, rolling his second shot to within three feet of the hole before sinking his putt for a second successive five-under round of 67 to sit a shot behind Fitzpatrick (66-67).
“Delighted with the first two rounds. To put myself right in contention going into the weekend is something that I wanted to do,” said McIlroy, who has finished second seven times since his last European Tour victory at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open in 2016.
“It’s something that I haven’t done a lot of over the last few weeks. I’ve sort of had bad starts and then clawed my way back into a good position at the end but to be right in the tournament after two days, I’m excited.”
Fitzpatrick, who was bogey-free and came home in four-under 32, is looking to extend an impressive record of having won in every season since he graduated from the Qualifying School in 2014. “It’s where you want to be, at the top after two rounds, and, on the back nine today, I putted fantastic, as good as I’ve putted all year,” said the 25-year-old from Sheffield, who has four second places on the 2019 Race to Dubai.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to be in this position a few times already this year,” he added. “A little bit different being a WGC. It means a little bit more to everyone. Still the same plan. Still trying to hit fairways and greens.”
American Xander Schauffele, the defending champion, is lurking ominously in joint-third alongside Korea’s Sung-jae Im and Australian Adam Scott on nine-under, with overnight leader Haotong Li from China and Dundee-based Frenchman Victor Perez both a shot further back.
Bidding to make up for the disappointment of missing out on the event this time around, 2015 winner Russell Knox made a promising start on a low-scoring opening day in the PGA Tour’s Bermuda Championship.
The Scot carded a bogey-free seven-under-par 64 to sit just two shots off the lead, held by American Scott Scheffler, in joint-third at Port Royal Golf Club in Southampton.