While Rod Pampling, the Australian who dared to match Carnoustie's mean par of 71 on Thursday crashed to an 86, Van de Velde proved it was possible to pick up birdies on Carnoustie's closing holes to reach the clubhouse, or rather the spanking new hotel behind the 18th green, at one over par. Angel Cabrera, known in Cordoba as "Pato" ("the Duck"), was one shot behind with, at one further back, Jesper Parnevik, who had a level-par 71. Tiger Woods and Greg Norman shared fourth place with Sweden's Patrik Sjoland at four over par.
Although the wind got up in late morning to present similar conditions to Thursday, the early starters had a couple of hours of calm to get into a rhythm. David Frost and Costantino Rocca, neither of whom broke 80 in the first round, managed 69s, as did Cabrera.
Mark Brooks, the 1996 USPGA champion, hit birdies on four of the first six holes in his 70, the same score as Tim Herron and Norman. The Australian had four birdies and 13 pars but a disastrous triple-bogey seven at the 17th. Woods also suffered over the closing stretch with bogeys at the 16th and 18th.
The world No 1 followed his first round of 74 with a 72. "I'm in very good shape," Woods said. "If you are moving up spots on the leaderboard, you must be playing well."
The first of his four birdies came with a 30-footer at the first and, for the second day running, Woods manoeuvred his way around the course in impressive fashion. In contrast to his American rival David Duval, who hit a 75 to be 12 over, Woods has embraced links golf in general and the exacting nature of this lay-out in particular. "You have to be very creative," he said. "A good shot is borderline; you have to hit great shots."
Norman, the Open champion at Turnberry in 1986 and Royal St George's in 1993, did not think he had hit a bad drive at the 17th. It was only three yards off the short grass but found a particularly thick patch of rough. "I couldn't see the ball," said Norman, who did not move the ball with his first hack. "I don't know what happened. I didn't feel the ball on the club face so it must have been an airshot."
The Australian chopped out over the Barry Burn to the rough on the left, chopped on to the fairway, was short with his fifth but got up and down from there. "I got a true dose of punishment but I didn't deserve it," Norman said. "To get grass this dark and green here, God came down and put fertiliser on this rough, I've never seen it this lush."
The way some of the players have gone on, you would have thought this was Mickey Mouse golf. Van de Velde started on mini golf before he persuaded his parents to take him to the course close to their beach home near Biarritz instead of water-skiing. Now, the 33-year-old is sponsored by Disneyland Paris.
Although he has won only once on the European tour, at the Roma Masters in 1993, Van de Velde is a member of the players' committee and has been known to voice his opinions, especially at Seve Ballesteros's exclusion of Miguel Angel Martin from the 1997 Ryder Cup team. "There was never any fight," the Frenchman said. "I had my opinion. He had his opinion."
Having led the qualifiers at Monifieth, he only had one practice round. "The more you play this course, the more you will miss the fairway and the more you will worry."
On Thursday, Van de Velde dropped four shots in the last four holes in his 75. "Walking off the 14th green today, I was determined to do better," he said. He holed from 50 feet across the 16th green, then hit a wedge to three feet at the last.
"There is a first time for everything," Van de Velde said of leading a major championship for the first time. "It's just a golf tournament. I need to stay patient and focused. If it is my week, it's my week."
If it is, he could become the first French winner since Arnaud Massey in 1907. "If I can do something really good it will be a big boost for golf at home not just for me."
Cabrera, who was second in the Irish Open two weeks ago, would become the first Argentinian champion since Robert De Vicenzo in 1967. Cabrera, whose par putt at the last only toppled in moments before the 10-second rule expired, comes from the same club as Eduardo Romero, who is known as "El Gato" - "the Cat". "In our province we love to give people nicknames," Cabrera said through an interpreter.
It was one of those days when Colin Montgomerie lived up to some of his more unflattering sobriquets. At eight over, Monty was only four strokes behind the group which included Woods and Norman. Yet the Scot, who was in the fourth group of the day, once again descended into his usual Open despondency. A three-putt at the first hole set the tone for the day. From then on, Monty not only saw, but barked at, every out-of-place photographer or BBC cameraman. Only birdies at the 10th and the 14th brightened his day but they were forgotten by the time he dropped three shots at the 15th, 16th and 17th. "It wasn't a difficult day, I had a great draw but I didn't capitalise on it," Monty said.
"I'll just look forward to Medinah," he added thinking of next month's USPGA Championship, "because I'm afraid this is gone now." At least he is here for the weekend. Nick Faldo, the three-times champion, missed the cut for the first time in his 24th Open at 15 over, the same score as the Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal.
More reports, pages 30 and 31