Xander Schauffele makes late move to claim half-way lead at the Olympics

The American leads by one heading into the weekend, but Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama is moving into contention.

A sensational conclusion to his second round saw Xander Schauffele vault to the top of the leaderboard in the men's Olympic golf competition.

The 27-year-old American's front nine had been a roller-coaster ride that included three birdies, an eagle, two bogeys and just the three pars.

When added to the four pars with which he started the back nine he was looking at a mid-table position heading into the weekend.

Whereupon he completely transformed his chances of not only winning a medal, but also standing on the highest point on the podium on Sunday evening.

His first move was to drain a lengthy eagle putt at the par-5 14th, he then maintained the momentum with a hat-trick of birdies at the 16th, 17th and 18th holes.

He was also breathing a sigh of relief that he completed his day's work seconds before the hooter signalled a suspension of play. No frustrating early resumption for him.

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Instead he can plan his third round safe in the knowledge he'll be out late. He leads Carlos Ortiz by one, with Mito Pereira, Alex Noren, Sepp Straka and Hideki Matsuyama a further two shots back. The latter has two holes to complete of his second round.

Schauffele was content with his Friday 63.

"I just kind got in a nice flow there at the end," he said. "Kind of one of those situations where I wish I could play some more holes. It was nice to sort of make that last putt on 18 before the they blew that horn."

He's also happy to be bang in the hunt for medals rather than needing to play catch-up.

"I don't have the exact stats, but it does seem that you need to be in touch through the halfway point to have any sort of shot at winning," he suggested. "There's a very small handful of group of people that have won coming from too far behind.

"If you're trying to win golf tournaments you need to be in the hunt kind of in the midway and even coming into Sunday."

The Californian has finished second or third no less than 11 times since he last tasted victory and the wait to add to his trophy collection is proving to be a test of his patience.

"I've been pressing pretty hard for quite a little bit of time to win to be completely honest," he said.

"There was a point today where I was starting to get a little impatient and I kind of had to remind myself back to the times I did win and the times I've been watching other people win.

"They seem to be pretty patient and stay in the moment. It's only Friday and we're thinking way ahead, but I'm just going to try and stay as patient as possible coming through to the finish line."

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Let's take a closer look at the current state of play.

Gold medal position

-11 Xander Schauffele

That blistering finish landed him a seventh 36 hole lead of his career and the good news for him is that in the previous six he always finished in the top three, so he looks well set to land a medal. He has pushed on for the win just the once, however. Perhaps the Schauffele family Olympic and Japanese heritage will help him get over the line? His mother was born in Taiwan, but brought up in Japan and he has lots of family still in the country, including his grandparents. His father dreamed of competing in the decathlon at the Olympics and his grandfather officiated at them.

Silver medal position

-10 Carlos Ortiz

The winner of last year's Houston Open is leading the Mexican charge this week rather than his more touted compatriot Abraham Ancer. He might easily have held the half-way lead himself, but for Schauffele's rapid finale and his own rather sedate one: he played the final seven holes in level-par.

Bronze medal position

-8 Mito Pereira, Alex Noren, Sepp Straka, Hideki Matsuyama

Chile's Pereira is the sneaky in-form player of the field. The 26-year-old was a struggling hopeful on the second tier Korn Ferry Tour until last month whereupon he won twice and then transferred that quality to the main tour, arriving in Tokyo fresh from PGA Tour back-to-back top sixes. He carded a second round 65.

Noren is a past winner at Wentworth, designed by Harry Colt whose partner Charles Alison designed this week's test, and has scored 67 in both rounds. First round leader Straka added a 71 to his opening 63. Home hero Matsuyama still has two holes of his second lap to complete and he is currently 6-under-par for round. He's looking for a third win at the host club, but a first on the East Course.

Chasers

-7 Jazz Janewattananond, Rory McIlroy, Shane Lowry, Paul Casey

Thailand's Janewattananond opened with a 64, but couldn't maintain the pace and like Straka added a 71. The two Irishmen were on fire. McIlroy scored 66 and Lowry 65 as they smoothed into contention. A weekend medal tussle looks well within their grasp.

Shane Lowry quotes

"Rory said the other day, this is like Firestone Country Club and I said I can deal with that because I've won there. Then he said something about the Mexico WGC and I was like, 'Don't mention that one, I'm never going back there.' There's not much trouble off the tee and thankfully because I've not been driving the ball well. Even put my driver away a couple of times today and just hit 3-wood. It's something like we play in the States, probably a little bit easier than what we normally would see because it's soft. Even if you miss a fairway you can fire at the flag and there's chances out there."

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Rory McIlroy quotes

"The goal today was to get back in touch. Sepp shooting 8-under yesterday showed everyone what was out there and that was my thing, I just wanted to get into contention going into the weekend and at least feel like I was still a part of the tournament and I've done that."

Carlos Ortiz quotes

"The whole experience is so cool. Being surrounded by so many athletes, eating in the dining halls and it's like 20,000 people around you. Sleeping in little condos, I'm sharing with a boxer. The other day he finished his fight and he's like, I'm waking up at 4am, then he's coming back at 11pm, getting in the ice bath, waking up everybody and then we come out and he's like, 'I'm so sorry, I'm still running on adrenaline, I'm just trying to calm down, sorry if I wake you up.' You wouldn't get that anywhere else. It's fun, I loved it so far."

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