Frenchman Pavon rides the wave

Muscat: Frenchman Matthieu Pavon produced a masterclass around the Greg Norman-designed Al Mouj Golf course on Friday, carding a second round 65 to roar into the halfway lead at the NBO Oman Open in Muscat.
Pavon finished tied third when he last visited Al Mouj Golf as a European Challenge Tour player in 2016 and he rode on the wave of those good memories as he rattled off eight birdies in his seven under par round, which included an electrifying front nine of 31, to reach 11 under par for the tournament.
“It was really good fun, I really enjoyed every part of my game today,” said Pavon who joined the European Tour last season and is searching for his first win. “Everything was really consistent and solid. I played a lot of good shots and a few really good putts, so everything was just really good.
“I’ve got a lot of good memories of this course which helps. When you play bad on a course and then have to go back there you have some bad memories but here it’s just the opposite — I just have so many good memories so I’m just trying to surf them!
“It’s one of my favourite courses that I’ve played in the last three years so it’s great to have the European Tour here and I think it’s a great thing for Oman.”
Joint first round leader Matthew Southgate, meanwhile, remains in the hunt for a maiden European Tour title after a second round of 70, which could have been lower had he not found the Gulf of Oman with his tee shot on the 18th, leaving him to walk off with a double bogey. But the Englishman, who revealed that he is “playing the best golf of my life”, refused to be downbeat.
“I played really nice, very similar to yesterday,” said Southgate who enters Saturday’s third round one shot off the lead in second place. “I feel really in control of my game and emotionally I’ve been really good on the course.
“I just switched off a little bit on the 18th tee. I made a poor swing and a poor error and I’m not surprised (what happened). It’s a hot day and it’s taken a lot out of me.
“These things happen, I didn’t mean to do it and I certainly won’t mean to do it again. There are going to be hundreds of shots that I hit in my career that I’m not happy with and that was just one of them.
“I think I’m playing the best golf of my life which is the goal because I look to just improve all the time.”
Southgate’s fellow countryman and overnight leader Paul Waring carded a solid enough, if fairly uneventful, 70 and admitted that he “didn’t quite get it going” with some tricky pin positions on the Al Mouj layout while another Englishman, Chris Wood, shot an impressive round of 66 to join him in third place at eight under par.
“Those two days were more enjoyable than the last six months or so, that’s for sure,” said Wood, who has struggled to regain the form that saw him win the 2016 BMW PGA Championship. “I’ve only dropped one shot over two rounds and that was a three-putt yesterday. It’s good, finally a bit of progress which is nice because when you struggle with this game it can get you down a bit. It’s nice that I’m seeing the light now.”
Darren Clarke is another player enjoying something of a revival in Muscat. The 2016 Ryder Cup captain didn’t make a cut on the European Tour all season last year and has started the current campaign in a similar vein. But the Northern Irishman looked like a man reborn at Al Mouj on Friday, notching five birdies in a blemish-free round of 67 to move into a share of ninth place.
Dutchman Daan Huizing followed his opening round of 66 with a 72 and sits alone in fifth place at seven under while fellow countryman Joost Luiten (66), Sweden’s Marcus Kinhult (69) and Julien Gurrier (69) are one shot further back.