Graeme McDowell is looking forward to chasing his first European Tour win for nearly two years after a second successive 68 left him just four shots behind his former Walker Cup team-mate Luke Donald in the Madrid Masters.
Free from worrying about his place in the world's top 50 until after the Ryder Cup campaign, the 30-year-old Ulsterman feels a weight has been lifted off his shoulders and he's determined to enjoy his weekend in the sun.
The Portrush star sits alone in fourth place on eight-under-par, with Donald set to end his four-year victory drought after a 67 left him one clear of Rhys Davies (68) on 12-under and two ahead of another Welshman, Jamie Donaldson (70).
“I don't have to worry about the top 50 any more,” said world No 49 McDowell, who had to wait until Monday's world ranking update to secure his place in the US Open and the Open. “I feel I have done a good job of keeping it out of my head, but it is always there in the back of your mind. The brain is pretty powerful.
Paul McGinley failed to build on his opening 66 as he took 32 putts in a lacklustre 74 to slip back into the pack on four-under.
“I had no return on the greens today and that was the difference,” McGinley said.
Playing in the group immediately behind Donald and a struggling Sergio Garcia — who missed his first cut on European soil for six years — McDowell holed a 113-yard sand wedge for an eagle three at his opening hole (the 10th), but after a bogey at the 12th he soon found himself six shots behind his English rival.
As straight-hitting Donald birdied five of his first seven holes to race to 12-under, McDowell started to pepper the pins with his short and mid-irons, picking up five birdies in 10 holes to get to 10-under-par.
That still left him four behind Donald, who was seven-under for the day with three to play before he bogeyed his 16th and 17th holes.
But McDowell did exactly the same, three-putting the par-three seventh and then missing a three-foot par putt at the eighth.
Peter Lawrie found some form with the blade for the first time this season as he finished birdie-birdie for a 68 that left him tied with McGinley on four-under.
Damien McGrane lamented his lack of fortune as he struggled to a 73 to make the cut with one to spare on two-under.
“I got shafted at every opportunity,” McGrane said. “I hit a lot of good shots and did a lot of things well but the course gave me nothing whatsoever.”
Shane Lowry squeaked in for the weekend on the mark with a 74. But Gary Murphy — forced to play with a marker after playing partners Jose Felipe Lima and Andrew Tampion both pulled out after the first round — has now made just three cuts from 12 starts this season after a second successive 73.
Former Royal County Down assistant Simon Thornton was also heading home after a 71 left him on four-over.