LYTHAM ST AnnES // British Open leader Brandt Snedeker said that a recent round of golf with five-time winner Tom Watson was the catalyst which transformed him from being a no-hoper on links to a potential champion.
The 31 year old from Nashville lit up the second round of the tournament at Royal Lytham on Friday for a course record-equalling 64 and a halfway total of 130 to tie triple Open champion Nick Faldo's 36-hole aggregate of 130 at Muirfield in 1992.
That left him a shot clear of second-placed Adam Scott, the overnight leader.
It was a performance, Snedeker said, that left him in a state of shock, especially as in three previous Open campaigns he had failed to make a single cut or even better 70.
It was not due to any dislike for the peculiar demands of playing on links, said Snedeker, who on the contrary has a particular fondness for seaside golf, but was just that he could not get the hang of it.
Enter Watson, one of the all-time greatest proponents of links golf.
"Well, it helped a bunch playing with him," Snedeker said. "He told me the first time over here he wasn't a big fan of links golf. The second time he played he loved it.
"You've got to kind of embrace it, realise that you're going to get good bounces, bad bounces, expect the worst and hope for the best."
It was certainly the best that Snedeker produced in damp, cold Lancashire conditions Friday morning.
He opened with a birdie on the par-three first for the second straight day and reached the turn in four-under 30.
Two more birdies came his way at 11 and 12 and when his game went somewhat off down the rest of the back nine his putter invariably came to his rescue.
In two rounds the American has not allowed a single bogey and, more incredibly, he has yet to go into any of Lytham's 206 trademark pot bunkers.
In his own words, he said he had been playing "boring golf", far removed from the aggressive target variety he usually plays back home in the United States.
"I'm shooting away from every pin, trying to put it 25, 30 feet away, and hopefully make some putts, which I've done the first two days and hopefully plan on doing the next few days," he said.
It is not the first time that Snedeker has been in the hunt for what would be a first major title, having gone close at the 2008 Masters before Trevor Immelman won.
He played alongside the South African in the final pairing of the third and last rounds that year and he said he learnt a lot from watching the way the South African handled himself.
"To watch Trevor handle the emotions and play the way he did the last 18 really taught me a lot about what you're going to have to go through," he said.
Scott, who fired a 64 on Thursday to match the course record set by Tom Lehman in the third round in 1996 and equalled by Snedeker, stood second on nine-under and Tiger Woods, the 14-time major champion seeking his first major title since 2008, six-under.
World No 1 Luke Donald of England, eight strokes adrift, warned that Royal Lytham would offer more issues at the weekend.
"It's never easy playing with a lead," Donald said. "It's one of those courses you can be a little bit off and struggle."
Snedeker hears all that but if any of it troubles him, he is not saying.
"This weekend I feel prepared," he said. "I've been in some pretty tight spots in the States and I've been playing in play-offs and playing against the best players in the world and stuff like that.
"So I kind of know what pressure feels like. Obviously it's going to be a lot more over the weekend, but I've got something to fall back on ... I can't taste it. We've got a long way to go.
"I've got a cushion, which is nice. I don't have to play the best golf over the next 36 holes. I have to play good golf but maybe not the best of anybody."
MICKELSON LOST FOR WORDS AS HIS STRUGGLES CONTINUE
There was no breaking Phil Mickelson's spirit but he was at a loss for words after slumping to a woeful eight-over-par 78 to miss the cut.
The friendly American, smiling while scratching his head in bemusement as he struggled to explain his poor showing, even had a pen handy to sign a host of autographs in the drizzling rain.
"I don't know what to say right now," the four-times major winner told reporters. "I've got a way to go. The last two months have been pretty poor play so I'm a little frustrated. The scores are really far off. I don't know what to say."
It will be back to the drawing board and more work with coach Butch Harmon, who said he had spotted a flaw in the American's swing.
"I'll have a week to get sharp before Akron and the PGA," Mickelson said in reference to next month's WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and the year's final major at Kiawah Island from August 9-12.
PAUL CASEY SHOULDERS BLAME FOR HIS GAME
Paul Casey is now an horrendous 53 over par for his past five events in Europe after crashing out of The Open.
The former world No 3, in danger of falling out of the top 80 this weekend, collapsed from three under par after 12 holes of his first round to 11 over after a 79.
Casey, who has made only one halfway cut since dislocating his should snowboarding on December 24, resumed two over and still had high hopes when he sank a 10-foot birdie putt on the second and then made a remarkable par at the 478-yard next.
In deep rough for two, he hacked the ball over the green, but then chipped in and gave a fist pump.
Trouble was just around the corner, however.
In addition to four bogeys there were sevens on the seventh and 11th, both par fives, and another double bogey at the short 12th.
Two weeks ago the 34-year-old Ryder Cup star finished joint last at the French Open with back-to-back 80s, and last Friday a second successive 76 at the Scottish Open meant only three of the 156-strong field were behind him.
He told the Press Association at Castle Stuart: "Yes, the shoulder has damaged my golf, but I feel good physically and mentally.
"In a way, though, this is an opportunity. I'm doing a lot of learning about my swing.
"I'm also being incredibly thorough and not leaving any stone unturned. I'm addressing the mental side, the nutritional side, everything I do on and off the course because I want to get to a whole new level.
"I'm just dedicating myself to it as much as I can - if I'm not going to do it now I'm never going to do it."