Ryan Fox has left some of world golf's biggest names in his wake, and is on the hunt for his first European Tour title.

Fox has maintained his lead at the Irish Open, sitting at eight-under par following a three-under 69 in his second round.

He shares top spot with South Africa's Erik Van Rooyen and France's Matthieu Pavon, on a leaderboard in which the big names either have to play catch-up on the weekend, or are heading home already.

Of the players within three shots of Fox, only two would register with the casual fan – 2016 Masters champion Danny Willett and 23-time European Tour champion Lee Westwood – while of the six players in the field who are ranked in the world's top 50, only Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm made the cut, and both are seven shots behind Fox and company.

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It leaves Fox in the unfamiliar position of tournament favourite, and a strong final two rounds could see him not only come away with a maiden title, but also a spot at the Open Championship.

Fox qualified for the Open last year as a result of a fourth place finish in Ireland, and this time there are three places available at the Open Championship for the top finishers who are not already exempt.

No pressure, then, but Fox says he is going to continue his attacking approach – especially with his driver – which has proven fruitful through the first two rounds.

"I had a couple of wayward [drives] early on [holes] three and four, but hit a really good one down six going for the green, made an easy birdie there and that kind of relaxed me a little bit," he said after his round.

"I tried to take it on yesterday and did the same today, I hit some great drives on the back nine. I'll see if I can keep doing it over the weekend."

Despite his impressive opening, Fox says there's still room for improvement, with the 31-year-old having struggled on the par fives, which are usually a strength of his game.

"[Holes] four and 17 seem like gimmes really, I hit a bad drive on four and got away with it, made a pretty scrappy par, and had a bad drive up 17 as well. That was a bit frustrating but hopefully I can rectify that."

If he can, there might be two significant prizes coming Fox's way.

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* Lydia Ko is also in the mix for a solid finish at the Thornbury Creek Classic on the LPGA Tour. Ko has vaulted 43 spots up the leaderboard after a six-under 66 in her second round, moving into a share of 11th at nine-under.

Despite starting slowly with a bogey on the third and hitting only six of 14 fairways, Ko recovered well, reeling off six birdies to sit just three shots behind second-placed Yu Liu. South Korea's Sei Young Kim has a healthy four-stroke lead at 16-under.