Paul McGinley reignited his hopes of winning a fourth Ryder Cup cap when he opened an immaculate six-under-par 66 to sit just a shot off the pace in the Madrid Masters.
The tricky Real Sociedad Hípica Club de Campo lay-out requires brains rather than brawn and the Dubliner hardly put a foot wrong as he carded a chip-in eagle three and four birdies to share fourth place with Maarten Lafeber as England's Luke Donald and Welsh duo, Jamie Donaldson and Rhys Davies, grabbed the lead with seven-under-par 65s.
It was the 2002 Ryder Cup hero's first sub-70 round for two months and he's hoping it will give him the momentum to make an unlikely dash for a place in Colin Montgomerie's side to face the Americans at Celtic Manor in October.
Delighted to keep a bogey off his card, McGinley said: “The great thing was no bogeys.
“Last week at Wentworth, I made 17 birdies and finished on two-over. I made too many bogeys but today I had none, which is always nice. It's a plodders course. You can't grab it by the throat and try to shake birdies out of it. You have to plot your way around.”.
McGinley can't afford to plod this summer if he is to force Montgomerie to consider him for one of three wildcards rather than a vice-captain's role.
He's 75th in the race for one of nine automatic places and more than 800,000 points (euro) behind last man Paul Casey.
His career looked in danger when a sixth operation on his left knee last November put him out of the game for three months. But he's determined to take on what looks like mission impossible and force his way into Montgomerie's thinking with some red-hot summer form.
Donaldson and Davies set the pace with seven under 65s in the morning before Donald (32) shook off the disappointment of the 71st hole double bogey that cost him last week's BMW PGA by firing two eagles and four birdies to grab a share of the lead on seven under.
Graeme McDowell looked likely to challenge the leaders when he got to three under after eight holes.
But the Ulsterman stalled in mid-round, dropping a shot at the 12th before finishing eagle, bogey, birdie for a four-under 68.