x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

McIlroy and Bjorn hold slender lead over pack in Dubai Desert Classic

Lower-ranked players rub shoulders with stars near the top of the leaderboard.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - FEBRUARY 10: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland plays his second shot on the 16th hole during the second round of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic at the Emirates Golf Club on February 10, 2012 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** 138637043.jpg
DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - FEBRUARY 10: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland plays his second shot on the 16th hole during the second round of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic at the Emirates Golf Club on February 10, 2012 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** 138637043.jpg

DUBAI // Here is a leaderboard to resemble its city, both bustling and gleaming.

At 13-under par it has Rory McIlroy, the world's No 2 player, whose 65 followed on a 66 and caused his enviable comment: "This was very stress-free golf."

At 11-under par it has Martin Kaymer, the world's No 4 player, whose 67 featured a hole in one and caused him to say: "You know, I'm not coming here for just playing four nice rounds in the sunshine; I would like to leave this place with a trophy."

At 10-under par it has Lee Westwood, the No 3 player, who shot a 65 and said: "I persevered, really."

Nine players are separated by three shots at the top of the leaderboard entering the final two rounds of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, and with McIlroy joined at 13-under only by Thomas Bjorn, who shot that 62 to win the European Masters in September and who won three times last year.

He shot a 65 yesterday, as well as the still-a-record 22-under par at Emirates Golf Club to edge Tiger Woods in the 2001 version of this event.

"I've played great golf for a long time now," said the 40-year-old Dane, his assessment accurate whether he meant months or years.

While the course yawned and took a nice day off, McIlroy shot up the board early on, the No 119-ranked Spaniard Rafael Cabrera-Bello sustained contention later on by adding a 69 to his leading first-round 63 to remain one behind McIlroy, and Westwood yearned for some trouble.

Said the 38-year-old Englishman: "I'd like for the people around here that set the course up and run the tournament, for there to be a bit of breeze, just to keep it interesting for everybody and make par under bogey worth something because at the moment it's a bit of a race and chase out there.

"Sometimes if you don't make a birdie every three holes, you feel like you're losing ground on the field. So it would be nice if it got up and made us think a little bit."

Or, as France's Gregory Bourdy put it after shooting 67: "It was, again, perfect course, perfect weather, and oh, yeah, perfect day to be happy."

With a score of 11-under like Kaymer's and a world ranking of No 138 unlike Kaymer's, he joined some ambitious people manning the two-round top 10. Those included Scotland's Scott Jamieson (No 205) and Stephen Gallacher (No 148) and Germany's Marcel Siem (No 223).

"We got a lot of Germans running around here and supporting me, and it's really nice," Siem said.

"It's a very, very important tournament. It's the last of the Middle East tournaments and big world-ranking points, and I need to climb up there somehow."

All of them and more cruised towards the last half of the test having sheared those who managed to play level par, and from a UAE interest they took along with them all three of the qualifiers from the inaugural Middle East and North Africa Golf Tour.

The first champion, England's Jake Shepherd, booked two more edifying rounds with a 70 and a 1-under par 143, while the American Sean McNamara matched that two-day total with a 71, and England's Peter Richardson went still better as his 70-71 leaves him at 3-under and still afloat for more.