'Tougher' day but Sterne still leads
Golf:A closing birdie enabled South Africa’s Richard Sterne to regain a one-stroke lead at the halfway stage of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic. The 31-year-old was able to add only a 70 to his spectacular opening 62, but that was good enough to keep him on track for a sixth European Tour victory.
England’s Tommy Fleetwood, Scot Stephen Gallacher and Dane Thorbjorn Olesen share second place, but Lee Westwood has six shots to make up — and more than 25 players to get past — after a bitterly disappointing finish. The Irish challenge is headed by Peter Lawrie and Gareth Maybin after 70 and 67 respectively.
Damien McGrane is four under after a 72, Michael Hoey two under following a second 71 and Shane Lowry is two over after a 72. Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley is seven over, having followed up his opening 74 with a 77.
Westwood drove wildly into the sandy waste on the 359-yard 17th and double-bogeyed one of the easiest holes on the Emirates course where he has three times been a runner-up, then failed to get up and down from just over the last green and had to settle for a 71.
Sergio Garcia is only three behind despite a shoulder problem he thought might lead to his withdrawal and Paul Casey is one further back, but suffering from a “very very sore and painful” arthritic big toe on his right foot.
Sterne was in the world’s top 30 before a long battle with a back injury and currently ranks only 165th. He resumed with a birdie, but bogeyed the fourth and 14th and needed more birdies at the three par fives on the back nine to grab top spot back on 12 under par.
Sterne said: “The course was a lot tougher with the wind and the greens definitely firmed out a bit. I think it’s going to be quite tricky coming to the weekend. There’s a lot of guys bunched up and you’re going to have to play pretty well to be there on Sunday.
“I had a long time sitting at home watching all the guys and especially the South Africans winning, so it’s nice to be back in the action and to have a chance.”
Former Challenge Tour winner Fleetwood, the 22-year-old from Southport, has yet to drop a stroke and after a 68 told Sky Sports: “It’s just nice to be up there with all these great names.”
He was joint leader until Sterne’s late strike and added: “I felt fine — I’d rather be there than anywhere else.”
Gallacher, 38-year-old nephew of ex-Ryder Cup captain Bernard, has lifted only one Tour title in more than 400 starts going back 20 years. But he was joint second with Westwood a year ago and kept alive his hopes of going one better by matching Sterne’s round.
Olesen is seen as one of Europe’s brightest prospects. He has already secured a debut at the US Masters in April — by 0.01 ranking points — and a fortnight ago shared the runner-up spot with Justin Rose at the Abu Dhabi Championship.
“I believe in myself and want to achieve my own goals — that’s the biggest pressure,” the 23-year-old said after a 66 that began with four successive birdies and again did not contain a single bogey.
His first Tour success came in Sicily last April and he added: “I’m hungry for more wins. I want to win twice this season. That’s my main goal, so the quicker I can get the first one the better.”