ST ANDREWS, Scotland: Danny Willett took up the challenge of giving England a first Open champion in 23 years at St Andrews on Friday shooting a three-under 69 in the second round.
The 27-year-old from Sheffield, who has steadily risen to 39th in the world this year, moved to the fore with better-known countrymen Justin Rose, Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood and Luke Donald all absent from the top of the leaderboard.
He had five birdies against two bogeys and, at nine-under par for the tournament, he was the clubhouse leader by two and the man to match for everyone else.
The last English winner of the Open was Nick Faldo in 1992 at Muirfield.
"I think it`s a childhood dream and looking up there it`s still a little bit surreal but something I`m going to have to get used to, otherwise no point in being up there," he said.
"We`re going to try and rest up and then try and go out for another good weekend and hopefully we can be up there in two days` time."
Willett`s charge came after the weather gods had played havoc with the Open schedule, causing a 3 hours 14 minutes delay and spilling over the second round into Saturday morning.
The storm that had been forecast to sweep in from the North Sea arrived on time just as the first group of players reached the first green and they rushed for cover.
Groundsmen worked feverishly to soak up the many puddles of standing water that made it look, at one stage, like play could even be abandoned for the day.
"It was like D-day," said South African Thomas Aiken, one of the first players to go out before the suspension.
"When we got out on the range, it was like, are you serious?. Are we really going out in this?
"The putting green was flooded by the time we got to the first tee."
But the Old Course with its sandy, links base remarkably quickly drunk up the deluge and play somehow got back underway at 10:00a.m (0900GMT).
Big-hitting American Dustin Johnson had the first round lead after an opening seven under 65, but his afternoon tee-time has been pushed back to 5:48p.m. in the company of history-maker Jordan Spieth and they were unlikely to complete their rounds before nighfall.
Spieth, seeking to add the British Open crown to the Masters and US Open titles he has already won this year, started with a 67.
Willett, a former world amateur number one and Walker teammate of Rory McIlroy, was one of six players who were grouped on one shot off the lead at the start of the day.
Home hope Marc Warren and 2007 Masters champion Zach Johnson stayed with him until they were tied at seven under, but the Sheffield player added birdies at 9 and 10 to move three strokes clear of the field.
His only stumbles of the day came at the 15th and tough 17th, but he birdied the last to come in with a 69 to go with his fine opening 66.
Warren had already signed for a 69 and is at seven under, the same as Zach Johnson who carded a 71 and the fast-charging Australian Adam Scott, who closed in with a superb 67.
India`s Anirban Lahiri, meanwhile, eased out to five under after a round of 70, level with Australians Geoff Ogilvy (68) and Steven Bowditch (69).
Lahiri has won twice this year already on the European tour and he is aiming to beat the best-ever performance by an Indian at The Open Championship - Jyoti Randhawa`s tie for 27th in 2004 at Royal Troon.
Tiger Woods was due out 22 minutes after Johnson and Spieth set out, and he was badly in need of a round in the mid- to low-sixties just to stand a chance of making the cut after struggling to a 76 on Thursday.
If he fails to do so it would be the first time in his career that he had missed back-to-back cuts in the majors, following his horror show at last month`s US Open.
It would also be the third time in the last four majors that he has failed to make it through to the weekend and will throw further doubts over the future direction of his career five months short of his 40th birthday.