Rory McIlroy wasn't among them.
While McIlroy was, in his words, "stuck in neutral" on his way to shooting an even-par 72 in the second round, Rahm, Hovland and Fleetwood all had 66s on the Earth Course to be in a good position heading into the weekend.
Nicolai Hojgaard, a 22-year-old Dane boosted by his recent Ryder Cup experience, had a back nine of 30 containing four birdies and an eagle to shoot 66 and lead on 11-under par, 2 shots clear of a five-man group including Hovland and Fleetwood.
Rahm was 5 shots back but happy with his game, while McIlroy was languishing on 1 under for the tournament, in 34th place in a curtailed field of 50 for the last event of the European tour's 2023 season.
"There is a low one out there," said McIlroy, who has already clinched the Race to Dubai title to be crowned Europe's No. 1 player, "and I'm going to need one to get myself back in the tournament."