Sandwich: It was billed as the most open British Open for years and after two days of tortuous wrestling with the Royal St George's links it is proving just that as a remarkable 42 players go into the weekend within five shots of joint leaders Darren Clarke and Lucas Glover.
Clarke, without a top-10 finish in a major for 10 years, fired a second successive 68 while Glover, the surprise 2009 U.S. Open champion, carded a level-par 70 to back up his impressive opening 66.
Chad Campbell, Martin Kaymer, Miguel Angel Jimenez and joint overnight leader Thomas Bjorn were a shot back on three-under and with the cut coming on four-over 144, the entire weekend field of 71 are within seven shots of the lead.
Pre-tournament favourite Rory McIlroy was safely among them on level-par but world number one Luke Donald failed to make the cut.
British amateur Tom Lewis, 20, a surprise joint overnight leader with Bjorn, found things a bit tougher in the limelight and carded a four-over 74 to slip back to one-under overall.
His playing partner Tom Watson, the man he was named after, hit the shot of the day when he aced the 178-yard par-three sixth.
Watson's 15th career hole-in-one, and the second of the tournament after compatriot Dustin Johnson's at the 16th on Thursday, helped the five-times winner to a level-par 70 and a two-over total.
Other memorable moments were few and far between as, despite warm sunshine and relatively light winds for much of the day, players found low scoring tough on the hard-bouncing fairways and tough-to-read greens.
The early starters had the best of the conditions and Clarke took advantage, of sorts, with a round that contained five birdies and an eagle but also three bogeys and a double-bogey.
"It was a little bit more adventurous than yesterday," the rotund, cigar-smoking 42-year-old told reporters.
Clarke, a long-time flag-bearer for Northern Irish golf, has suddenly seen himself usurped by compatriot U.S. Open winners McIlroy and Graeme McDowell but he has put himself in a good position for another crack at his first major.
"The course is going to play very, very tough (at the weekend)...the tournament is still wide open for an awful lot of players," he said.
McIlroy, who shot one-over on Thursday in his first round since his U.S. Open success last month, battled through the worst of the wind before finishing in style with a superb up and down from 15 feet to save par and raise a huge roar from the massed ranks of fans on the 18th green.
"It was a grind," said the 22-year-old after his 69. "Even though it was sunny and it looked nice out there, it was very tricky. The course is playing a lot firmer with a lot of cross-winds.
"It's just a matter of keeping it around par because with the weather coming in tomorrow something around that score is going to be very close."
Glover, who finished with eight straight pars, is not only leading the American challenge after a barren spell of five majors for the sport's most dominant nation, but is also in the running to become the first bearded British Open champion for more than a century.
"I actually hit it better than I hit it yesterday, just didn't make as many putts," said Glover, whose thick beard has its own appreciation page on Facebook.
Early rising American Campbell shot a 68 to reach three-under, the same tally as world number three Kaymer (69) of Germany.
Bjorn also closed on three under after recovering well from a dire start when he dropped three shots in the first four holes.
Sergio Garcia struck the ball tee to green as well as anyone and if he had had any sort of touch with his putter he would have been out on his own instead of on level-par after a second successive 70.
Donald bogeyed the last four holes for a wretched 75 and an early ticket home.
He could share a taxi with Lee Westwood (73) after the man he replaced at the top of the world rankings also missed the cut on four-over, extending his winless run in major championships to 54.
Others to miss the cut were former winners Padraig Harrington, Ernie Els, Todd Hamilton, Justin Leonard, John Daly, Mark Calcavecchia, Ben Curtis and, for the fifth time since he won it 10 years ago, David Duval.
Five-times winner Tom Watson, so popular with British crowds, enjoyed a huge following as he played with Lewis who was named after him.
The 61-year-old American duly raised the loudest cheer of the day when he aced the 178-yard par-three sixth with a glorious tee shot that disappeared into the cup on the second bounce.
The hole-in-one, the second of the tournament after American Dustin Johnson's effort at the 16th on Thursday, helped Watson to a level-par 70 for a two-over total.
It was Watson's second hole-in-one in majors -- he aced the fourth at Baltusrol in the 1980 U.S. Open -- and his 15th in all.
"I didn't see it, you can't see it go in," Watson said. "I just saw it on the TV replay in there -- it was a slam dunk.
"If it missed the flag it would've been 30 feet by but it was lucky. They're all lucky when they go in but that's what I was aiming at."