Shane Lowry in contention in Portugal after 'best round of the year'
Scotland's Marc Warren gave his chances of retaining his European Tour card a much-needed boost with a superb second round of 64 in the Portugal Masters.
Warren carded five birdies and an eagle at Victoria Clube de Golfe to finish 11 under par alongside Denmark's Lucas Bjerregaard, a shot behind halfway leader Nino Bertasio.
After missing the cut in more than half his events this season, Warren began the week ranked 173rd in the Race to Dubai, with only the top 100 after the Valderrama Masters next month keeping full playing privileges.
"Conditions were perfect, I drove the ball well and after that it was just about trying to be patient," Warren said. "The flags were tucked away and the greens were quite firm so I was pleased with that side of my game."
Bertasio carded six birdies in a second consecutive 65 and has dropped just one shot so far this week, with Bjerregaard also returning a bogey-free 65 on another day of low scoring.
Former champion Shane Lowry matched Warren's 64 to lie three shots off the lead on nine under, with defending champion Padraig Harrington a shot further back after a second straight 67.
"I'm very happy," Lowry, who has slipped to 86th in the world rankings, told Sky Sports. "I felt quite rusty out there yesterday (Thursday) after four weeks off. I played my way into the round and then hit some shots when I finished and really hit it well so was looking forward to getting out there and did the business.
"I think score-wise 64 is my best round of the year. It's a good time to start playing well, I've got a lot to play for the rest of the year.
"This was my first win as a professional so it was very exciting at the time. I can't believe it was five years ago."
Former Masters champion Danny Willett also enjoyed a welcome return to form, the 29-year-old compiling his first round in the 60s since February, since when he had been a combined 83 over par in European Tour events
"I'm working hard, there's still a lot of bad shots in there but the good is kind of creeping in there," Willett said after a 65 which left him six under par. "The processes and what we are working on feels better so it's just about putting it into tournament conditions."
Willett, who switched from long-time coach Pete Cowen to Sean Foley at the US PGA Championship in August, added on Sky Sports: "I only got to see him for six days in person at the PGA because I've been back in Europe and had a bit of time off.
"I was going to fly over a couple of weeks ago but Hurricane Irma came through and flights were cancelled. It's a very different way of doing things than I've been used to the last few years.
"Whether that's good or bad nobody knows, but the feeling is there and the back is better so if the back can stay healthy and the moves that I'm making can not hinder that, for me it's a positive going forward in a career that's hopefully going to last another 20 years.
"The perspective he (Foley) gives as well is something that's helped me a lot, almost realising that golf is a funny old game but as long as we are working to a better end goal, that really is the main thing."