Dangers lurking behind joint leaders Daniel Im and Benjamin Hebert

USA's Daniel takes a share of the lead into the weekend play at Portstewart
From Tony McGee in Portstewart

WHILE first round leaders Daniel Im and Benjamin Hebert kept up their blistering first round pace on day two of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Portstewart, the chasing pack is enough to whet the appetite of the thousands of fans heading to the north coast for the final two days of action.

Both Im and Hebert were out early yesterday and both added 67s to their opening 64s to move to 13-under par, but a look through the list of names in the chasing pack is enough to ease the disappointment of Rory McIlroy not being there.

John Rahm outgunned McIlroy for the second successive day in their threeball, adding a 67 of his own to his opening 65 and the budding Spanish superstar sits just one shot off the joint leaders on 12-under.

Hideki Matsuyama was the third member of the stellar threeball and he effortlessly put himself into a great position yesterday by adding a 68 to his 67 to sit nine-under, four off the lead.

The home challenge, meanwhile, is far from done and will be led by Paul Dunne from Co Wicklow and 2007 champion and three-time Major winner Padraig Harrington.

Dunne is five off the lead after adding a 69 to his opening 67, while Harrington matched his compatriot’s 69 to move to

seven-under and nicely poised for moving day.

Also on seven-under are English duo Tommy Fleetwood and Justin Rose.

Man-of-the-moment Fleetwood, winner in France last week and fourth in the US Open last month, moved menacingly up the leaderboard with a 67 to add to his opening 70, while Rose went the other way about with a 70 yesterday complementing his first day 67.

Add in the previous two winners of the tournament when it came north – Soren Kjeldsen, winner at Royal County Down two years ago, and 2012 champion at Royal Portrush, Jamie Donaldson – who are both five back on eight-under and the stage is set for an enthralling race to lift the title on Sunday evening.

Things had not been going to plan for Hebert over the last few weeks but he found the problem, it seems.

“I change my shoes first. I change at the start of the season and I feel good on the shoes but these ones are better, I think. And I practise a lot this weekend with my coach, We do a very good job with all my team, because we have got a lot of persons around, physio and fitness coach, my technical coach, my caddie. We have a big talk all together,” revealed Hebert.

However, there are other causes for his success this week. He was finding the fairways consistently. He reckoned that was a key to the success, as well as solid putting. He also revealed that he targeted the long holes and was pleased with making two birdies at those.

The Frenchman was a multiple winner on the Challenge Tour before recently graduating to the ‘big tour’ which he finds totally different.

“The Challenge Tour is very nice tournaments and very good players, but the European Tour, and especially the Rolex Series, is bigger,” he said.

The leading players all started at the 10th tee and Hebert bogeyed 11 but then hit a hat-trick of birdies for a back nine of 34. He bogeyed the first hole but got the shot back at the short third and trimmed a shot off six, seven and nine as well.

California-based Im (left) has been struggling with his putting, recently, but yesterday had only 22 in his round of 67. He kept working on the problem and tried to read the greens better.

“The putter got quite hot today and I made some good putts coming down the stretch and made 67,” he said.

He now heads into the weekend joint top of the leaderboard, a position he describes as “quite cool”. He also said he would like to see that position more often because that’s what he plays golf for.

Im has been in the hot seat before but not really at this level. He is a former Challenger Tour winner so that gives him the knowledge that he can finish things off. He is not pushing himself, however, and his weekend ambition is to “keep playing like how I am doing now”.

“Just enjoy the beautiful Portstewart golf course and just see what happens at the end,” he said.

Two birdies on the back nine left the New Jersey-born joint leader turning in 34 and he added another birdie at the short second hole, then gave it back at the next. Further birdies at six, seven and nine gave him the joint overnight lead.

Collated scores of players who made the cut

Gbr & Irl unless stated

par 72

131 Daniel Im (USA) 64 67, Benjamin Hebert (Fra) 64 67

132 Jon Rahm (Esp) 65 67

133 Ryan Fox (Nzl) 67 66, Matthew Southgate 65 68, Oliver Fisher 65 68

134 Paul Peterson (USA) 67 67

135 Anthony Wall 67 68, David Drysdale 66 69, Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn) 67 68, Hideto Tanihara (Jpn) 70 65

136 Soren Kjeldsen (Den) 68 68, Peter Uihlein (USA) 69 67, Stephen Gallacher 67 69, Paul Dunne 67 69, David Horsey 67 69, Jamie Donaldson 66 70, Fabrizio Zanotti (Par) 67 69

137 Haydn Porteous (Rsa) 71 66, Ashley Chesters 70 67, Andrew Dodt (Aus) 71 66, Lee Slattery 69 68, Dean Burmester (Rsa) 70 67, Justin Rose 67 70, Tommy Fleetwood 70 67, Wade Ormsby (Aus) 67 70, Adrian Otaegui (Esp) 68 69, Bradley Dredge 68 69, Padraig Harrington 68 69

138 Richie Ramsay 68 70, Matteo Manassero (Ita) 72 66, Callum Shinkwin 68 70, Rikard Karlberg (Swe) 68 70, Felipe Aguilar (Chi) 67 71, Robert Karlsson (Swe) 69 69, Haotong Li (Chn) 68 70, Gavin Moynihan 67 71, Ian Poulter 68 70, Jordan Smith 69 69, Gregory Bourdy (Fra) 70 68, Thomas Detry (Bel) 70 68, Julien Quesne (Fra) 70 68, Marcus Fraser (Aus) 71 67, Matthew Fitzpatrick 66 72

139 Scott Jamieson 70 69, Peter Hanson (Swe) 68 71, Scott Hend (Aus) 71 68, Duncan Stewart 67 72, Andres Romero (Arg) 68 71, Shane Lowry 68 71, Miguel Angel Jimenez (Esp) 69 70, Soomin Lee (Kor) 68 71

140 Marcus Armitage 71 69, Joost Luiten (Ned) 71 69, Matthieu Pavon (Fra) 71 69, Nathan Kimsey 72 68, Romain Langasque (Fra) 69 71, Simon Dyson 68 72, Sam Walker 69 71, Andy Sullivan 72 68, Chris Hanson 70 70, Thorbjorn Olesen (Den) 71 69, Eduardo De La Riva (Esp) 70 70, Sam Brazel (Aus) 70 70, Michael Hoey 68 72

141 Ricardo Gouveia (Por) 69 72, Richard Bland 68 73, Joel Stalter (Fra) 72 69, Paul Waring 68 73, Daniel Brooks 70 71, Damien Perrier (Fra) 72 69, Stuart Manley 69 72, Gary Stal (Fra) 68 73, Pablo Larrazabal (Esp) 68 73, Thongchai Jaidee (Tha) 71 70, Marcel Siem (Ger) 70 71, Alejandro Canizares (Esp) 70 71, Alexander Knappe (Ger) 72 69, David Higgins 69 72, Richard Sterne (Rsa) 73 68

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