DUBAI // England's emergence as a golfing nation to rival the United States was confirmed last night by the flag of St George dominating the congested leaderboard at the Dubai World Championship.
Ross Fisher carded a course-record equalling 64 yesterday while Ian Poulter added to his first round 69 with a six-under par 66. The two Englishmen will go out last this afternoon - just minutes behind their fellow countryman, Lee Westwood and Paul Casey, who are one and two shots back respectively in what is shaping up to be an intriguing battle for the US$1.25m (Dh4.59m) first prize at the Earth Course.
Casey, twice the Abu Dhabi champion, is in a three-way tie for fourth place alongside Germany's Martin Kaymer and Thongchai Jaidee, of Thailand.
Francesco Molinari and Miguel Angel Jimenez's rounds of 67 and 69 respectively mean that six of Europe's victorious Ryder Cup team plus previous representative Casey are in the top 10 here after 36 holes.
Kaymer's second solid round of the week should help guarantee him the Race to Dubai title awarded to the European Tour's leading money winner of the season.
Graeme McDowell, the Northern Irishman who was the only player with enough euros in the bank to have overhauled him this weekend, has slipped into a tie for 42nd place in an event he had to win - or at least come second and hope for a Kaymer flop - to claim the order of merit title.
Kaymer is now hoping he can do what Westwood did a year ago and celebrate a double triumph of Dubai World Championship and Race which would be worth US$2.75m.
The German knows it is going to be a tall order, though. "It's an interesting leaderboard," he said. "A lot of Ryder Cup players up there; the No 1 in the world is up there. So you can see that the standard of the European Tour is pretty high these days.
Several big names are well placed to thwart Kaymer's ambitious double bid, particularly the English quartet led by Westwood.
"The strength of English golf is incredible," Westwood said. "I think we have carried on over the first two days as we have been playing for the last two or three years.
"Other sports in Britain get mountains of coverage in the press but you tell me if they are performing as well as the golfers are. I don't think so. I don't think you'll find another sport in the country that's got as many worldclass performers as England has in golf."
Poulter, Westwood's playing partner yesterday and winner of their private battle by a stroke with a 66 to a 67, is looking menacing at nine under par for the 36 holes that have followed his Hong Kong triumph.
"I have hit it exceptionally well the last two days," he said, savouring the most exciting of starts which brought him birdies on all of the first four holes. "I am hardly making any mistakes and giving myself plenty of opportunities which is very pleasing."
Robert Karlsson, the first round leader, lost ground with a disappointing score of 75 which left the Swede in a five way tie for 12th position, one shot behind Seung-yul Noh, the Korean who started the day in second place.