Rory McIlroy leads at halfway of the Dubai Desert Classic
Cards a two-under 70 for a two-round total of 11-under 133
Brooks Koepka nearest challenger a shot further back
Tiger Woods eight off the pace after a disappointing 73
Rory McIlroy believes his renowned ability as a frontrunner will land him the Dubai Desert Classic title despite seeing his lead cut to a single stroke at the halfway stage Friday.
McIlroy was unable to reproduce his first round heroics when he shot a 63, but followed it up with a two-under-par 70 for a two-round total of 11-under 133.
Unheralded American Brooks Koepka was his nearest challenger after a sparkling second round 65 while world number one Tiger Woods struggled to a one-over 73 to make the cut by one shot on three-under.
England’s Danny Willett matched Koepka’s 65 to share third place on eight-under with Ireland’s Damien McGrane and Frenchman Julien Quesne.
Defending champion Stephen Gallacher, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Woods, was among seven players a shot further back, which included last year’s European number one Henrik Stenson of Sweden.
McIlroy struggled from the outset with a bogey on his opening hole but recovered to card three birdies to the turn. On the easier back nine he would have expected to pull further clear but instead made two bogeys, canceled out by birdies at the 10th and 18th.
The 24-year-old remained optimistic he could build on his slender lead at the weekend and land his sixth European Tour title.
“I will just go back tonight and regroup and realize that I am still leading the tournament,” he told the official European Tour website.
“I hit a couple of loose drives which I haven’t done the last couple of weeks but I still feel like I’m playing well enough to go and win the tournament.”
McIlroy has won a number of events, including the 2009 Dubai Desert Classic after leading for much of the way and believes it will hold him in good stead.
“I have led from the front quite well in tournaments that I have won. I feel like I am still playing well, I know the course as well as anyone else and I expect to go out there and shoot two good scores over the weekend and hopefully lift the trophy.”
Koepka, who won three events on the secondary Challenger Tour last season, carded seven birdies to earn his chance of pairing with McIlroy Saturday.
“I’ve never played with Rory, so it’s going to be fun. I know him a little bit from seeing him around, so hopefully I’ll be able to play as well as I did today,” he said.
Stenson, who topped the money lists in both the PGA and European Tours last season, looks to pose the biggest threat to McIlroy.
“I think there is still a little way to go but today was the best I have putted for a long, long time,” said the Swede.
Woods, who missed the cut in his opening event of 2014, was wayward off the tee and found the fairway just twice from 10 attempts when using his driver.
The result was a three-bogey round that left him tied for for 44th, but still not out of the running if he could produce an inspired round at the weekend.