South African Charl Schwartzel and compatriot Hennie Du Plessis led the chase for the record $4 million winners’ cheque after round two of the opening LIV Invitational event on Friday.
Schwartzel, who led after Thursday’s opening round, produced another dazzling round to stay top of the leaderboard by three strokes from Du Plessis.
The 37-year-old carded a four-under 66 in breezy conditions at the course in the countryside north of London to stand at nine-under with Saturday’s third and final round to come.
Du Plessis, who is on the same four-man team as Schwartzel, shot a 68 to stay firmly in the hunt.
Oliver Bekker made it three South Africans in the top four as he put together a round of 67 to reach three under.
American Peter Uihlein birdied his last hole for a best-of-the-day 66 to move to within five shots of Schwartzel.
After Thursday’s glitzy launch was overshadowed by news that the PGA Tour had suspended those taking part in the divisive Saudi-funded breakaway circuit, sizeable crowds arrived to watch the 48-strong field chase the biggest prize in golf history on Friday, air shows and live music adding to the entertainment.
Six-time major champion Phil Mickelson and playing partner Dustin Johnson drew the biggest following along with European Ryder Cup stalwarts Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood.
Mickelson, playing his first tournament since February after a taking time away from the game in the wake of comments he made about the LIV Series, struggled with his putter in a round of five-over 75 to leave him on four over for the tournament.
Johnson fared better, an even par round leaving him at one under heading into Saturday.
The LIV Invitational Series, offering an eye-watering $25 million in prize money at each of the eight events, has shaken up golf’s status quo and sparked a power struggle.
On Friday American big-hitter Bryson DeChambeau became the latest player to jump on to the LIV bandwagon.
The events features a 54-hole format with no cuts and a shotgun start where each group of three begins on a different hole. As well as the individual stroke play competition, 12 teams of four, chosen by captains at a pre-event draft and boasting names such as Stingers and Fireballs, compete for a team prize pot of $5 million.
Schwartzel’s Stinger team are out in front on a combined 15 under, seven better than Uillein’s Crushers.