DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Rory McIlroy birdied an 18-foot birdie putt on his final hole to surge into a one-shot lead at the halfway stage of the Dubai Desert Classic on Friday.
On the Majlis course of Emirates Golf Club, where he recorded his first victory as a professional in 2009, McIlroy enjoyed a superb day of ball-striking as he notched a bogey-free round of 8-under-par 64.
His 14-under-par total after two rounds was one ahead of Scotland’s Marc Warren, who continued his remarkable run of form following a second-place finish last week in Doha, with a nine-birdie round of 65.
Graeme McDowell, playing his first tournament of the year, showed no signs of rust as he added a 65 to his opening 67, and was tied for third at 12 under with England’s Seve Benson, whose 66 contained a double-bogey 7 on the par-5 18th hole.
Defending champion Stephen Gallacher also made a rare double bogey on the Majlis course, where his last three finishes have been second-first-first, but he made four birdies over the next five holes for a round of 67.
The Scotsman was tied for fifth on 11 under with the Race to Dubai leader Danny Willett (66) of England, overnight leader Bernd Wiesberger (69) of Austria, and the English duo of Lee Westwood (68) and Andy Sullivan (68).
McIlroy sprayed slightly from the tee, finding just seven out of 14 fairways, but that did not deter him from hitting all but one green in regulation. And while a three-foot birdie putt did horseshoe out on the 12th hole, and he burned the edge in the next two, he was delighted with his round, which gave him the halfway lead in the tournament for the fifth time in eight starts.
“I felt like I played very nicely. Couldn’t ask for much more; bogey-free, made birdies, and set myself up for a good run over the next couple of days,” McIlroy said.
“But there are so many people who are close to the lead, it’s so bunched up.”
Warren, who is ranked 56th in the world and needs a good finish this week to crack into the top-50 and earn his first invitation to the Masters in April, made one bogey before and after the turn, and finished on a high by rolling in a 50-foot birdie putt on his final hole, the ninth of the course.
Denmark’s Morten Orum Madsen shot the lowest round of the day, a 9-under 63 to improve into a tie for 10th at 10-under par.
The cut was at 2 under, which was missed by Sergio Garcia (71), at 2 over.