Paul Casey birdied the last four holes in a second-round 65 that lifted him to within a shot of the halfway lead at the Emirates Australian Open in Sydney.
Casey’s late birdie barrage earned him the early clubhouse lead on nine under, but he was later overhauled by Matt Jones after the 2015 champion also carded a 65 under smoke-filled skies at The Australian Golf Club.
Dimitrios Papadatos shares second place with Casey heading into the weekend, while Louis Oosthuizen is just one shot further adrift as home favourite Adam Scott and his fellow former Masters champion Sergio Garcia both failed to survive the cut.
Casey covered the back nine in two under and added another birdie at the second before dropping his first shot of the tournament at the next, but his outstanding finish hauled him firmly into contention for a third victory of 2019.
“Yes, insanity won today because I didn’t really change anything,” said Casey as he reflected on the difference from his first-round 68 which featured one eagle, one birdie and 16 pars. “The strategy stayed the same, and I continued to hit very similar tee shots to the tee shots I hit yesterday.
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“It’s mad, isn’t it? It’s madness. If I continue to play the way I did today, then I’ll be very happy and I’ll give myself a great chance of winning this thing.
“I didn’t come down here for a jolly. The weather’s perfect in Arizona right now where I live, so it would be very easy to be back home. I’ve never played an Aussie Open before and I’d love to win it. “I’m not here to make up the numbers, I’m here to try and win.”
Jones, meanwhile, admitted to having breathing problems and “stinging” eyes as the course continued to be shrouded in smoke emanating from nearby bush fires.
The Australian defied the conditions to card seven birdies, the last of which at the 18th earned him the outright lead, although he was not getting ahead of himself as he remained wary of the predicted stronger breezes for the weekend.