Versailles - Paraguay's Fabrizio Zanotti was the surprise leader of the French Open after a sparkling three-under-par 68 on Friday lifted the 30-year-old into a one-shot lead after two rounds of dramatic action at Le Golf National.
The South American, who is looking for his first ever victory on the European Tour, racked up four birdies before holding his nerve down the stretch to stand clear of the field heading into the weekend's final two rounds.
"I'm very happy. I struggled a bit from the tee but I putted very well and I'm pretty happy with the round," said a delighted Zanotti.
"On a course like this, I think you have to accept everything. It's playing very tough and the greens are getting hard, so it's going to be very difficult.
"I'm just going to keep patient and have fun."
Danish duo Thomas Bjorn and Soren Kjeldsen, along with South African Richard Sterne, are joint second on five-under. But overnight leader Anders Hansen, also of Denmark, slumped down the leaderboard with a horrid round of 78.
He finished the day on two over but eight shots back of Zanotti.
Bjorn, who famously collapsed at the 2003 British Open when he blew a two-stroke lead with three holes to play, endured another frustrating day when he bogeyed the final two holes after seizing a two-shot lead thanks to five birdies through 16 holes.
Stern, who won his ninth tournament earlier this year when he took the honours at the Johannesburg Open, is again set to challenge for the title at the 97th edition of a tournament set to host the 2018 Ryder Cup.
Kjeldsen followed his opening round of 69 with a almost flawless round of 68 that featured four birdies and just one bogey as the 38-year-old from Aalborg targets a fourth European win and first since his triumph at the Open de Andalucia in 2009.
In a crowded leaderboard, Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell, English duo Simon Dyson and Graeme Storm, as well as Scotland's Stephen Gallacher were all locked on four under and two shots adrift.
"It was a good finish to the day," said Stern.
"I started off well and kind of fell asleep halfway. I made a couple weak bogeys from the fairway, and I had a good finish."
McDowell moved into contention with a solid round while Gallacher bogeyed the 18th to also drop to four-under after a second round 70.
Storm had five birdies on the way to a three-under par round of 68 and is also well placed at two shots back.
Spaniard Eduardo De La Riva had the day's joint best round with a four-under par 67 that lifted him into a tie on three-under with Scotland's Scott Jamieson and Australian Richard Greene who nailed an eagle on the third hole during a round that was stained by a bogey at the last.
Former world number one Luke Donald and Ryder Cup teamate Ian Poulter finished the day on two over after respective rounds of par 71 and 73.
Meanwhile world number five Matt Kuchar survived the cut despite shooting a four-over-par 75.
Selected scores after the second round in the French Open at Le Golf
National outside Versailles on Thursday (GBR & IRL unless stated,
136 - Fabrizio Zanotti (PAR) 68-68
137 - Thomas Bjorn (DEN) 68-69, Soren Kjeldsen (DEN) 69-68, Richard Sterne (RSA) 68-69
138 - Simon Dyson 70-68, Stephen Gallacher 68-70, Graeme McDowell 68-70, Graeme Storm 70-68
139 - Eduardo De La Riva (ESP) 72-67, Richard Green (AUS) 69-70, Scott Jamieson 69-70
- Felipe Aguilar (CHI) 68-72, Alejandro Canizares (ESP) 71-69, Jamie
Donaldson 70-70, David Howell 69-71, Richie Ramsay 69-71
Kristoffer Broberg (SWE) 72-69, Chris Doak 71-70, James Morrison 69-72,
Matthew Nixon 68-73, Gareth Shaw 72-69, Lee Slattery 71-70, Marc Warren
69-72, Bernd Wiesberger (AUT) 70-71
142 - Gregory Bourdy (FRA)
69-73, Rafa Cabrera-Bello 70-72, Robert-Jan Derksen (NED) 72-70, Soren
Hansen (DEN) 75-67, Joost Luiten (NED) 71-71, Morten Orum Madsen 71-71,
Matteo Manassero (ITA) 73-69, Damien McGrane 70-72, Hennie Otto (RSA)
71-71, Thomas Pietiers (GER) 70-72, Romain Wattel (FRA) 67-75
Seve Benson 71-72, Jorge Campillo (ESP 74-69, S.S.P Chowrasia 76-67,
Victor Dubuisson 68-75, Ross Fisher 70-73, Michael Hoey 69-74, Chris
144 - Luke Donald 71-73, David Drysdale 70-74,
Estanislao Goya (ARG) 68-76, Anders Hansen (DEN) 66-78, Martin Kaymer
(GER) 68-76, Simon Khan 71-73, Gareth Maybin 71-73, John Parry 74-70,
Ian Poulter 73-71