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Watford (United Kingdom) (AFP) - 'Beef Mania' looks set to rule the British Masters over the weekend after spectator support helped carry England's Andrew Johnston into a share of second place at The Grove, just north of London, on Friday.
Johnston, or better known to his ever-increasing fan base as 'Beef', managed eight birdies in a second round score of a six-under par 65 as he matched the same score and 10-under par total of playing partner Alex Noren.
England's Richard Bland birdied his closing two holes in a round of 64 to move to 11-under par as the 43-year old continues to strive for a maiden Tour win after posting three top-10s in his past five events.
Johnston's effort included three birdies in succession near the end of his round while Sweden's Noren, already a two-time winner this season, also birdied three holes in a row mid-round before denying himself a two-shot lead when he played a poor drive and eventually three-putted the last.
Johnston, 27 was virtually little-known before capturing April's Spanish Open, but since then he's gained enormous fame among golf fans of all ages, with calls of "Beef, Beef, Beef" wherever he goes.
His fan base has also extended to the United States as was evident from the reaction of fans when he took part in this year's US Open, WGC?Bridgestone Invitational and PGA Championship tournaments.
- 'Loving it' -
And the support has shown no sign of stopping this week as Johnson targets a second European Tour victory.
"Make some noise and what I want to hear is 'Beef!'", he said. "I'm loving it, the fans have been amazing. So just keep it up because I'm loving it."
Also out supporting Johnston were members of his beloved North Middlesex Golf Club, not far from The Grove, along with family and friends.
"There's quite a few members from my home course and a lot of friends and family, so it's all good," he said.
"It's like everyone who is supporting me, knows me. I have a good relationship with the crowds and I just have a good time with them, so it's nice. There's all the kids coming up asking for pictures and asking me to sign stuff and it's all nice and open."
Among the items Johnston, who acquired his nickname as a schoolboy when a friend said his then curly hair made him look like a "Beef Head", has been asked to sign were a man?s forehead and a youngster's apple.
"Some guy came up to me on Thursday night and asked me to sign his forehead so I put a big Beef across his forehead and took a picture," said Johnston.
"It was with a Sharpie (permanent felt pen), as well so I'm hoping it's still on his head.
"And this young fellow asked me to sign his apple he was carrying. I said I couldn't sign his apple as he had to eat it but he insisted."
Noren, as a double Nordea Masters champion (2014 and 15) in his native Sweden, is used to a strong home-town following and he said he was delighted with how the crowd had reacted to 'Beef'.
"Any London event always seems to draw a lot of spectators and Andrew is great to the crowd," said Noren.
"He's playing great golf but he's also the nicest guy to the crowd I've ever seen. I can, we can all, learn from that.
"You need also confidence to be nice to the crowd and know that they are there for him. So it's great and the crowd know golf very well and they are quiet when they need to be."
Tournament host Luke Donald will be outside the ropes over the weekend after missing the level-par cut with scores of 77 and 70 for a five-over par tally.
"This was the first event I've played in over a month and I was just very, very rusty," he said.