Jason Day plans on separating himself from the field after defying challenging afternoon winds to emerge as the hot Australian Open favourite.
Day is breathing down the neck of halfway leader Lucas Herbert after wowing fans with four-straight back-nine birdies en route to a second-round three-under-par 68 on Friday.
- Lucas Herbert — 9-under (66)
- Jason Day — 8-under (68)
- Cameron Davis — 7-under (72)
- Anthony Quayle — 6-under (69)
- Nick Cullen — 4-under (72)
- Richard Green — 4-under (68)
- Matt Jones — 4-under (67)
- Cameron Smith — 4-under (69)
The former world number one climbed to 8-under for the championship, just one behind Herbert, who capitalised on perfect morning scoring conditions with a sizzling 66.
First-round leader Cameron Davis, the 2015 Australian amateur champion, cooled off with a 1-over 72 but remains right in the mix in third spot at 7-under, one ahead of fellow young gun Anthony Quayle (69).
US PGA Tour stars Matt Jones, the 2015 champion, and Cameron Smith, runner-up last year to Jordan Spieth in a playoff, share fifth at 4-under after respective second rounds of 67 and 69.
Spieth, though, faces an uphill battle retaining the Stonehaven Cup after failing to make inroads on the leaders. His second-round 71 leaves the world number two and three-time major winner 1-under, eight adrift of Herbert.
While Day is undoubtedly in the box seat heading into the weekend, the major champion is bracing for a fierce challenge from Herbert.
The 21-year-old has already proven his resilience, famously sleeping in the Carnarvon Golf Club car park during Open qualifying three years ago and then leading after the first round last year at Royal Sydney.
"If he just embraces it and goes out there, you never know, he may come out tomorrow and just absolutely shoot lights out," Day said.
"That's one thing that I obviously have in the back of my mind when I'm playing against him tomorrow, is that I'm planning on him playing well.
"Regardless of what he does, I've got to try and stay focused on my game."
Having sharpened his short game this year, Herbert believes lessons learnt from last year's Open — when he faded to finish tied 20th — will be a big help when he duels with Day on Saturday in the final group.
"I think more mentally than anything because, by Sunday afternoon, I was wrecked," Herbert said of how he was better prepared to go on with the job this time around.
"It takes so much out of you to be [around the lead]. I learnt a lot from that. I don't need to waste a lot of energy thinking about it."
While wary of Smith and Jones and certainly not discounting a weekend charge from Spieth, Day believes he, Herbert and Davis are in position to take command on Saturday.
"The biggest thing for me and the two other blokes is we've just got to try and separate ourselves from the pack," he said.
"If we can do that, then it just becomes a three-man race playing against each other and my goal is to just keep pushing forward."