Viva Espana in Barcelona

The appropriately-named Edouard Espana emerged as the unlikely halfway leader on seven under par after being one of only five players to break 70 as scores again soared due to a combination of blustery conditions and a hard and fast Real Club de Golf El Prat course.

Unheralded Frenchman Espana fired a 69 to earn a one-shot lead over Argentine veteran Ricardo Gonzalez, while British pair Michael Hoey and David Howell are both in the hunt after commendable second rounds.

The evergreen Jimenez aced the eighth hole on his way to a 71 which left him six off the pace, while Garcia picked up two crucial birdies over his last six holes to claw his way back to three over, which proved good enough to make the weekend with a shot to spare.

Espana, ranked 162nd in the Race to Dubai, carded four birdies and just one bogey to snatch the outright lead from Gonzalez, who had stormed to eight under with his fifth birdie of the round at the 12th before dropping back into the pack with a bogey at 16 and a double-bogey at the next.

Espana, who graduated from the Challenge Tour last season, told European??Tour Radio: “Leading the open with my name everywhere is very cool. I played really good today, it was very windy so it was tough to control distance and the putting was tough too but I played very well and I am really happy.

“My family is from Spain so that’s why my name is Espana. My cousins are here this week so it’s really good. It’s completely different (on the European Tour), the level of tournaments are higher so I have to improve my game, my level to play good on tour and I try but it’s difficult so we will see at the end of the week if I keep going.

“It’s tough because there are a lot of good players, the courses are really??good and difficult ??so you have to play well and focus on your game.”

Day’s best for Hoey

Gonzalez salvaged a 69 with a birdie at the last, while Hoey enjoyed a commendable six-birdie round to post a day’s-best 68 and close on five under alongside Darren Fichardt, who reached nine under with three straight birdies from the fifth before dropping four shots in six holes after the turn.

Howell was the only player to keep a bogey off his card on the second day as he fired an excellent 69 to reach four under along with English compatriot Paul Maddy, who birdied three of his last six holes to return a 70.

Former Ryder Cup star Francesco Molinari is a shot further adrift after an entertaining six-birdie 69, while first-round pace-setters Trevor Fisher Jnr (78) and Tommy Fleetwood (77) are both still well-placed on one under despite enduring a torrid day.

But it was Jimenez who provided the highlight of the day when he followed birdies on the second and fifth with his ninth European Tour ace – equalling the record of Colin Montgomerie.

The 51-year-old hit a six-iron through the wind at the 160-yard eighth, his ball pitching 15 feet short of the pin before taking the left-to-right break and rolling straight into the cup. Jimenez could not capitalise on his stunning shot as he came home in 39 to slip to one under, but he had the consolation of winning 288 bottles of beer for his hole-in-one.

Garcia, who started on the 10th, looked to be heading out of the tournament when he bogeyed the second and third to drop to five over, but he rolled in a crucial putt for birdie at the third before getting up and down from sand for a four at the long seventh and parring in to post a 72.

“I didn’t feel I played that badly,” said Garcia, who made the trip to Barcelona immediately after losing out to Rickie Fowler in a dramatic play-off for last week’s Players Championship in Florida.

“It was a great week last week with everything that happened. It takes it out of you, but it’s no excuse. You just try your best and hope it’s good enough.”

After learing he had survived with a shot to spare, the 35-year-old later??wrote on Twitter: “2 tough days to start the #OpendeEspana but at least I’ll??have the opportunity to play the weekend and have a chance! Will need great??golf!”

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