Rory McIlroy six off pace in California

Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy

Brendan Steele has spent four-and-a-half years looking to rediscover that precious winning feeling and it could return this weekend at the Open in Napa Valley, California.

Now aged 32, Steele marked his rookie year on the PGA Tour with victory at the Texas Open in April 2011, but he has yet to lift silverware since.

He was second at the Humana Challenge in January 2015, but put himself in pole position after 36 holes at the Silverado course on Friday after following up his breathtaking opening 63 with a solid 70 to reach 11 under par.

In doing so he held a two-shot lead over a chasing pack featuring Steele’s fellow American Will Wilcox and Venezuelan Jhonattan Vegas who were among four players tied on nine under after their respective rounds of 67 and 71. Vegas made a bogey six at the last rather than the birdie that would have seen him tie for the lead.

Canadian Graham DeLaet and American Harold Varner III, in his first PGA Tour event of 2015 and just his fourth overall, were also sitting pretty on nine under. DeLaet added a 68 to his opening 67, while Varner backed up Thursday’s sparkling 65 with a solid 70.

Front-runner Steele was born locally, in mountainous Idyllwild, California, and lives even closer by to this week’s course, in the nearby city of Irvine.

He would be a popular winner of a tournament which this year is peppered with top-class talent.

Steele said of his second round: “I was really happy with how I hung in there.

“Everything’s pretty good. Normally I’m a pretty good ball striker and that’s even maybe a little better than it normally is this week but I’ve holed quite a few putts and that goes as a good combination.”

Scotland’s Martin Laird, who tied for third place last year, and England’s world number seven Justin Rose were in close attendance, tied for sixth on eight under, while Rory McIlroy toiled for a one-under 71 to stand five under, Northern Ireland’s world number three standing 19th and needing a big weekend to put himself in contention.