Golden oldie Miguel Angel Jimenez stormed to the top of the leaderboard at the halfway stage in the Austrian Open but has three Scots chasing him in the first European Tour event in four months.
"We’re doing well. We must be doing quarantine right in Scotland," joked Craig Howie of sitting in the top 10 along with compatriots Marc Warren and Connor Syme at Diamond Country Club, near Vienna.
Jimenez, who is already the oldest winner in European Tour history, carded 10 birdies as the 56-year-old Spaniard backed up an opening 68 with a 65 to move into a two-shot lead on 11-under-par.
“It feels great,” said Jimenez, a 21-time winner on the circuit, the last of which came at the age of 50 years and 133 days in the 2014 Spanish Open.
“Four months without competing, it’s nice getting back into a tournament and feeling the tension again. I was excited to get back. I miss the competition.”
He's made 15 birdies so far on his return to action, having entered this week's event as he prepares for the Champions Tour, his main priority these days, to restart.
Three-time European Tour winner Warren and Howie, who is playing in just his second event on the circuit, are sitting joint-second in a five-strong group on nine-under.
"Overall, it was a pretty solid day, nothing overly spectacular but pleased with a solid round again," said Warren of his 69, which contained four birdies and one bogey.
The Glaswegian is carrying his own bag due to his caddie's Covid-19 test not coming back in time.
"There’s no one to moan at if you get a club wrong," he quipped of that. “It’s trying to keep on top of the other stuff, making sure there’s water in the bag – especially in hot conditions like today – which I’ve been taking for granted over the last 15 or so years. Next time I’ve got a caddie on the bag I might go a little easier on him."
Howie picked up four birdies in the first six holes to lead outright before mixing an eagle with three bogeys in the remainder of his round.
"It was tricky because it’s so warm," said the Peebles man, who has matched Warren's two opening efforts. "Having spent quarantine in the UK, we’re not used to this. It meant the ball was going a really long way and it was difficult to get good numbers to hit the right distance."
Despite the long lockdown lay-off, he's taken up where he left off in the opening few events of the Challenge Tour season in South Africa earlier in the year.
"I have zero expectations this week, I still do," insisted Howie, who is managed by Paul Lawrie. "My game isn’t really amazing, if I’m honest. It’s not as sharp as I’d hope, but that's to be expected."
Syme, who finished second in the Shot Clock Masters at the same venue when he was a rookie two seasons ago, recovered from a shaky spell in the middle of his round to keep the leader in his sights.
"I was feeling the heat on the middle of the front nine and dropped a few shots because of it," said the Fifer after signing for a 70 that contained five birdies to sit in a tie for eighth.
"Although it’s been nice in bits at home, we’ve not had heat like that for a long time. I adjusted, remembered things like putting my towel around my neck. Basic stuff which I wasn’t doing."
On sitting just four shots behind Jimenez, he added: "It’s exciting to be at the right end of the leaderboard. Nice to be in a good position."
Craig Ross, a winner on the MENA Tour earlier in the year, carded a second straight 70 to sit on four-under, two shots ahead of Scott Henry (73), as five Scots out of a seven-strong starting contingent progressed to the weekend.
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