Neil Raymond is the man to beat as he chases the US Amateur Championship title after leading the qualifiers into the matchplay phase of the tournament.
The Titchfield ace carded two superb rounds of 67 at Brookline, Massachussetts – the scene of the infamous 1999 Ryder Cup green invasion by the USA team – to post an outstanding six-under-par total.
That score was equalled by Australian Brady Watt, who shot 68 and 66, and saw the duo share the honours, with medals awarded to the leading qualifiers.
But Raymond, who went on to beat Californian Jason Anthony by one hole in the first round of the matchplay late last night, knows he is now seen as a major scalp by his rivals.
He said: ‘It’s very good. I know Brady pretty well.
‘People are going to be gunning for us because our names are at the top.
‘I didn’t have a score in mind when I got here.
‘I came out, took some good swings and said, let’s see what happens. I am delighted it all came together.’
The US Amateur Championship crown, which was won by Tiger Woods three years in succession in 1994, 1995 and 1996, has a glittering list of previous winners that also includes Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Phil Mickelson.
The current format is a 36-hole qualifier followed by six rounds of matchplay with the final scheduled for Sunday.
Victory would be the biggest of Raymond’s amateur career, which already includes a host of triumphs at prestigious events, including his double Brabazon Trophy success.
And he could have an extra edge with experienced local caddy, Tommy White, on the bag after carrying his own clubs for the first round.
Raymond, who met his temporary bag man just 90 minutes before teeing off for his second round, said: ‘When I left the club after my first round, someone asked me if I would like a caddy for the second round.
‘It was a very nice offer. Then when I heard the forecast and all the stuff I would have to take in the bag, I decided to use a caddy.
‘He made a big difference. He was brilliant.’
The 27-year-old, who now looks a certainty to be named in the Walker Cup side to take on the Americans next month, is gaining valuable experience of playing in USA which will make him a formidable member of the Great Britain & Ireland team.
And he is clearly enjoying his form and the opportunity to play at a famous venue after firing successive 67s – especially considering it is expected to be one of his final amateur competitions before he makes the switch to the professional ranks later this year.
He said: ‘It’s up there. It’s about as good a golfing memory as I can have.
‘I’ve won a tournament at St Andrews, which is pretty high up there, but shooting 67 on a golf course like this, it’s going to sit with me for a very long time.’