Lee Westwood is looking good to make amends this weekend for his recent US Open near-miss, and to give himself the perfect boost ahead of The Open. However, alongside him near the front of the field, halfway through the French Open at Le Golf National near Paris, is none other than Colin Montgomerie.
Six months into a year which has seen him fall out of the world's top 100 for the first time since 1990, Montgomerie birdied the final two holes of his second round to join Westwood on five under par, two shots behind the Spanish rookie Pablo Larrazabal.
Montgomerie hit a five-iron to four feet, then an eight-iron over water to seven feet to finish in real style. Asked about his chances of a 32nd European Tour win, he said: "Very good. If I can be patient I have a chance.
"I had 16 holes of utter, utter frustration and I hate to say the birdies were deserved, but the way I played that was the minimum I deserved. It was as good as I can play tee-to-green. It was back to the way I won tournaments."
Westwood has also been easy to spot on the opening two days. He was the one standing on the fairway while others disappeared into the hay.
"I don't think I've seen rough as bad as this since Carnoustie in 1999 – it's chest-high at points," said the former European No 1, who could be back at the top of the Order of Merit tomorrow night. He would have been there if he had won at Torrey Pines two weeks ago, rather than finishing one behind Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate.
"I'm constantly being told 'well played this week', but while that's great and nice to hear, sometimes you want to forget about it and concentrate on the French Open," he said. "It [the US Open] looks like a great result to everyone else [it was his best finish in a major], but at the same time it wasn't a win, so it is always in the back of your mind that you didn't win it."
Westwood has yet to lift a trophy this year, but his confidence is high and it went up another notch with his bogey-free second round here yesterday.
"I've managed to stay well away from the rough and that's the key around here," he said. "I'm all for long rough, but there are a couple of places where it is only four yards off the fairway. I think that's a bit severe, but with the course firm and bouncy it's almost like playing a links and great practice for The Open."
Larrazabal, a qualifier, is one in front after his opening 65 and a second round in which he stretched his lead to four before bogeys at the 16th and 17th for a 70.
"They are the big stars and I am the rookie," said the world No 481. "To know that I can play like them is great for me, very positive."
Last year's US Open champion, Angel Cabrera, was joint leader until he lost a ball on the 17th and double-bogeyed; Larrazabal's countryman Ignacio Garrido moved alongside him on seven under as well, before bogeying the 15th.
In Grand Blanc, Michigan, Corey Pavin, Bo van Pelt and Dudley Hart all got off to perfect starts at the Buick Open, hitting bogey-free eight-under 64s to share the first-round lead.
Pavin started in unspectacular style with four pars before catching fire and reeling off six birdies over the next eight holes to rocket up the leaderboard at a steamy Warwick Hills Golf and Country Club. Using a putter that had sat in his closet for more than 10 years, the former Ryder Cup player needed just 21 putts to record back-to-back rounds of 64 for the first time in 25 years on the PGA Tour. The 48-year-old journeyman also had a 64 on Sunday, in the final round of the Travelers in Connecticut.