After joking that he spent much of last week checking out South Africa’s wildlife, Rory McIlroy was glad to be back looking at leaderboards in Dubai on Friday.
The Northern Irishman, without a win on the European Tour this season, has been displaying some of the familiar flows that have snaffled two DP World Tour Championship titles already, carding a 5-under par 67 for his second round to move into contention.
By the time he had signed off on seven birdies and two bogeys, McIlroy was three shots from the lead, with only five players between him and the summit. The return to rude health has been facilitated by the return to form with driver, apparently, something that has hampered him throughout the year, in fact.
Improvements were evident at the Nedbank Golf Challenge in Sun City last week, where McIlroy came home in a tie for 21st. Still, keeping the ball in play this week means sights can be trained once more on who’s doing what on the course.
Asked if it was refreshing to be back gazing at leaderboards after the past few weeks – he was tied-54th in China two weeks ago – McIlroy responded with a smile: “There was no point in looking at them. I wouldn’t have been anywhere near them.
“I was more trying to look for wildlife last week. More trying to look for lions and elephants than leaderboards.”
Now on the hunt on Dubai, his competitive juices are flowing.
“It’s nice to be in the mix,” McIlroy said. “It hasn’t been a while, because it’s only been two stroke-play tournaments since I was. I was in the last group in the Tour Championship [in September], but time-wise, even the Ryder Cup feels like an age ago.
“But it’s only Friday, so there’s a long way to go.”
McIlroy spent his second round alongside old sparring partner Patrick Reed. The two have gotten to know each other quite well the past couple of years, with the epic battle on Sunday at the 2016 Ryder Cup, and then again as the last-out pairing during the final round at this year’s Masters, when Reed slipped into a first Green Jacket.
On Friday, the American was one shot better off than McIlroy around the Earth Course, both on the day and for the tournament.
“Someone asked me there: ‘you seem to bring out the best in each other’,” McIlroy said. “Well, I seem to bring out the best in him. We’ve had a couple of really good experiences together on the golf course - Hazeltine 2016, final round Augusta this year.
“I have huge respect for Patrick and how he plays the game. I’ve seen firsthand how good he can be.”
McIlroy seems to be in fine fettle himself. Champion in Dubai 2012 and 2015, obviously he wouldn’t mind adding another to close the season on a high.
“I just want to give myself another chance to win a golf tournament,” said the four-time major winner, who has a solitary victory worldwide in 2018. “I've given myself plenty of chances this year. I just haven't capitalised on those.
“I need to shoot another good round tomorrow to get myself right in contention on Sunday, and hopefully if I can do that, I can play some good golf. It would be nice to win for a third time out there.”
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