Port Rush - Frenchman Gregory Bourdy stormed into a two-stroke clubhouse lead on day two of the Irish Open here, as local stars Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke struggled to keep up with the pace.
The 30-year old Bordeaux-born Bourdy added a five under par 67 to Thursday's opening 65 to move to 12 under par at the halfway stage on the Royal Portrush course.
Bourdy got off to a flier with an eagle at the second followed by a birdie at the third.
He dropped a shot at the fourth but three more birdies saw him reach the turn in 31 before two birdies and two bogeys saw him go level par through the back nine and take him into the weekend at 12 under par.
"I have played so well these two days and especially as it is not easy to play well in a second round after having a really low first round," said Bourdy, who is chasing a fourth European Tour title.
"I went out there looking to start really well and to eagle the second and to birdie the third was a real bonus.
"The bogeys came from some missed shots but I stayed confident and in the present and that's why I made a good birdie at 17, so I am very happy to be minus five today."
Bourdy's 36-hole opening tally is his lowest since he reached 14 under par after two rounds of the 2008 Estoril Open, an event he went on to win.
His other victories have come in Majorca in 2007 and in Hong Kong in 2009, but Bourdy says he is better placed now to handle the pressure that comes with taking a lead into the weekend.
"I do feel as though I'm a much more mature player now and have the ability to better handle everything that goes with shooting low scores, and winning bigger events," he added.
Behind him, Italy's Lorenzo Gagli carded a 66 -- just one stroke less than his best ever Tour score -- to move into second place on 10 under par.
The 26-year old from Florence has won three times on the secondary Challenge Tour and went close to a first main Tour win in finishing runner-up to England's Lee Slattery in last year's Madrid Masters.
"My putter has been the key to these two rounds so I am pleased with my putting," he said.
"But I like links golf because it's another kind of golf, and we have to try and make a few low running shots. So that's good."
Welshman Jamie Donaldson (67) on nine under par and Scotland's Gary Orr (68) on eight under added to a contrasting flavour atop the board.
World No. 2 McIlroy -- who again had his girlfriend, Danish tennis star Caroline Wozinacki, out supporting him -- added a 69 to his opening 70 to move to five under par.
"It felt okay today and I feel like I played solid out there," said McIlroy.
"I probably could have holed a few more putts if I'm honest but I just struggled a little bit getting the speed of the greens.
"But, overall, it was a decent round, and something to build on for the weekend."
In contrast, playing partner and PGA Champion, Keegan Bradley, was returning home to Florida early with the assurance he will miss the expected two under par cut off mark after rounds of 73 and 71 left him level par.
But another local star, Clarke, breathed a sigh of relief with a final hole birdie for a four under par tally that guaranteed the Portrush resident his place over the weekend.
"I would have liked it to be better but a 69 is not bad," he said.