Greg Chalmers has played so many times in so many different countries he scarcely knows where he is this week, albeit that he is leading the Emirates Australian Open. He might be well advised not to look behind him tomorrow; the big guns are all in the mix in a star-studded leaderboard.
Chalmers, the 1998 and 2011 Open champion, leads by a shot at five-under par through two rounds at The Australian after a 66 today.
But world No. 1 Rory McIlroy (69) is one of four players who are a single shot behind. World No. 3 Adam Scott also roared back into contention today with a 66 to be only three shots back, and American Jordan Spieth, the first-round leader, is two behind.
The weekend could hardly be set up any better. There are 16 players within five shots. Four of them are just one behind Chalmers — McIlroy, Adam Crawford, boom amateur Todd Sinnott and American Conrad Shindler.
Lefty Chalmers, 41, had a disappointing year in America this year at the end of which he has only conditional playing status. Hence his hectic recent schedule, including a flight from his US base in Dallas to Perth (for the Perth International), to Malaysia for another, through London back to Dallas then to Jackson, Mississippi, back to Dallas, to Cancun in Mexico when he unexpectedly picked up a spot in a tournament there and down to Melbourne last week for the Australian Masters.
"I don't feel jet lagged, (but) it's just my sixth event in a row and I'm trying to conserve my energy and ironically, the more birdies I make, it seems to be the more energy I have, so that's always a good thing,'' he said.
The Western Australian has been one of Australia's best players for more than a decade, and he might have had a sense that it was his day when his tee shot at the par-three 11th bounced off a spectator left of the green and ended up a few centimetres from the flag, or as he put it ''a spectacular result, I don't know if it was a spectacular shot''.
Chalmers has had just 50 putts in two rounds; it was his bomb from 10 metres at the last that vaulted him to the outright lead. He is a wonderful technician with the short stick.
The tournament extracted the shot in the arm that it needed when Scott began at 7.05 in the morning today. Starting on the back nine, he hit a beautiful iron shot to the par-five 14th hole and rolled in the eagle putt. Another birdie from close range at the 16th and another at the 18th kept the momentum running.
Scott had begun the tournament by dropping five shots in his first nine holes on Thursday but it was his back nine in the opening round, when he picked up two shots, that could prove to be decisive. Jordan Spieth has already said he admired how the Australian hung tough. By the time he carded a blemish-free 66 today — with a lip-out at his final hole for another birdie — he was well and truly back in the tournament.
He said his mind had been the difference. "Sometimes you can say your game's in good shape and it actually is even though the score doesn't reflect that and I feel like I'm playing really well. I'm struggling to get momentum going my way this week and last week and staying patient and staying calm certainly is a big thing in my game, paired with that kind of belief that if I just keep aiming where I want to hit it I'm eventually going to hit it there and I'll eventually make a putt if I keep just doing the same things over and over again, just like I do in practice.
"That's kind of how I feel. I certainly don't want to panic at that point when I'm 5-over after 9.''
McIlroy had a mercurial day and finished with just five pars on his card. Twice the world No. 1 found water, flaring his tee shot at the par-three fourth into the pond and then spinning a lob wedge off the right side of the narrow seventh green and into a watery grave. But he eagled the 14th and had five birdies. He is still well-placed.
Chalmers, McIlroy and Crawford will be in the final group today., and Crawford, who plays on the Web.com Tour in the US, was comfortable.
"Whoever, it’s fine. Rory? No worries,'' he said.
"You practise and play to put yourself in contention and if you didn’t want to be there, you’re wasting your time playing this game. No matter who it is, I’m happy..'