Manassero shapes up for Italian duel with Molinari

Teenager hits seven birdies on last nine at Scottish Open while Mickelson finds form

Teenager Matteo Manassero, twice a winner on the European Tour already, is in the hunt for another victory – and a place in the Open – after a 64 at Castle Stuart yesterday.

With fellow Italian Francesco Molinari able to follow up his first-round 62 with only a 70, Manassero's scintillating seven birdies in the last nine holes took him only one off the lead in the Scottish Open.

The Tour's youngest-ever champion could qualify for Royal Lytham next week with a top-five finish, but his sights are on emulating what German Marcel Siem did at the French Open last Sunday by winning to earn his spot.

"The Open is on my mind and this is my last chance," said the 19-year-old from Verona, who stands 11 under par at halfway.

Molinari had a triple bogey seven on the 464-yard seventh to allow Swede Alex Noren to join him out in front after a second successive 66 the day after his 30th birthday and the day after his girlfriend Emelie won an event in Norway.

Argentina's big-hitting Ricardo Gonzalez is joint third with Manassero, while world No 1 and defending champion Luke Donald's 68 means he has only three shots to make up and Phil Mickelson's 64 brought him just five back. With 2009 winner Martin Kaymer alongside Donald and Padraig Harrington six under, the final 36 holes has all sorts of possibilities still.

Mickelson's 64 yesterday might not have brought him the same satisfaction as his last one, but it still tasted sweet. Five months ago he had Tiger Woods as his playing partner at Pebble Beach and, while Woods crashed to a 75, he charged to victory from six behind.

At Castle Stuart this time the performance lifted the American from the depths of 123rd – in danger of missing the halfway cut – into contention on seven under par.

There was an element of relief about it a week before the Open Championship because it ended a run of eight successive over-par rounds, something that had never happened to him before.

After improving nine strokes on his opening round, Mickelson, who pitched in from 60 yards for an eagle two on his very first hole, said: "I'm really glad I added this tournament."

The left-hander was on holiday with his family in Italy when he decided to seek an invitation on Saturday and, luckily for him, there was one available.

"I just needed to play more – I've only played three tournaments the last couple of months.

"It's very helpful to see my game progress so quickly. I'm very lucky because I've got a very supportive family and when I was thinking about adding it after missing the cut last week [my wife] Amy had the same idea simultaneously.

"It was very important that I have a couple more rounds here. It will give a chance now on the weekend to have a couple more days of working on it.

Paul Lawrie suffered a blow to his Ryder Cup hopes by missing the cut in the Scottish Open, although he praised the work of his stand-in caddie – 16-year-old son Craig.

The 43-year-old from Aberdeen, who last represented Europe in 1999 two months after winning the Open, needed a replacement for the week because the wife of his regular bag-man Dave Kenny was expecting.

After rounds of 73 and 69 a, Lawrie – third in the cup standings with six weeks of qualifying to go – said: "Craig did brilliant. He did everything a caddie could do and he enjoyed it. He said it was pretty cool – even with his dad putting like that."