Rory McIlroy fires himself back into contention with second round 66

Holywood golfer four shots off leader Justin Harding as three Irish players make the cut

The smiling interaction between Rory McIlroy and his caddie Harry Diamond told its own story, one where the player’s charge up the Dubai Desert Classic leaderboard - a 66 for a midway total of seven-under-par 137, four behind leader Justin Harding - proved fulfilling and yet with the feeling that some shots had been left out on the course at the Emirates Golf Club.

“It could have been way lower,” agreed McIlroy of a round which saw him leapfrog his way to tied-fifth. “I certainly hit the ball well enough to be lower. I missed a few opportunities but, with the way these new greens are, they get chewed up in the afternoons and start to wiggle a little bit if there is a lot of speed in them. They’re pretty quick as well, you don’t want to be giving them too much of a run at the hole.”

McIlroy’s bogey-free round was highlighted by a chip-in eagle from just off the fringe of the par five 13th and he also claimed birdies at the first, second, 10th and 18th holes. However, there were also a lot of birdie putts, including a couple from four feet, that stubbornly refused to drop in, edging the hole or dramatically moving off line at the death.

Certainly, there were huge positives for McIlroy to take from a round in which his driving was excellent and his iron play setting up numerous opportunities. After a disappointing opening round, McIlroy had headed to the range and he found out enough to bring a sharper game to his second round.

As he explained of the technicalities of his swing, “Golf is sort of a game of opposites, the more you try to get the club out in front of you on the way back, the more it wants to try to get behind you on the way down. I’ve been trying so hard to keep the club in front of me, that it started to get behind me coming down. I got underneath a few of them today but it was better just turning on to trying to keep the club on plane on the way down and then I can basically hit it with my body rotation especially with my hands. I thought I hit my irons a lot better today and was in control of the driver a bit better, too.”

McIlroy, a two-time winner of the tournament, in 2009 and 2015, added: “I certainly hit the ball as good as I’ve done in a long time and it could have been a few (shots) better but 66 is a good score and it sets me up for a nice weekend.”

Of the four Irish players in the field, three of them survived into the weekend of the Rolex Series event which has a €1.2 million payday for the winner. McIlroy (66 for 137), was joined by Pádraig Harrington (70 for 140) and Shane Lowry (74 for 145) who survived by the skin of his teeth on the cutline. Lowry’s round was a topsy-turvy affair which included a double-bogey, three bogeys and three birdies.

Harding, whose second of two wins on the European Tour came in last year’s Kenyan Open, produced a second round 68 for 133 - which included a hole-out eagle two on the par four sixth hole - for the South African to claim the 36-hole lead, two strokes clear of England’s Tyrrell Hatton.

Of that eagle highlight, Harding remarked: “It might be the first time I’ve ever hit the fairway. It’s a hole that I bail on over the years. I had a good number which allowed me to pitch it 10 or 15 short of hole, and the cameraman actually said, ‘I like it’. I thought he was joking. It was just a good swing and an added bonus with going in makes up for a couple other things around the golf course.

“But, at the end of the day, I would have been happy coming in with 9-under to be fair. It was a good hard slog, the last couple holes played quite tough with the breeze. I’m uite happy with two days work.”

Collated second round scores in the DP World Tour Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic, (Gbr & Irl unless stated, Par 72):

133 Justin Harding (Rsa) 65 68

135 Tyrrell Hatton 69 66

136 Erik van Rooyen (Rsa) 69 67, Fabrizio Zanotti (Pry) 66 70

137 Viktor Hovland (Nor) 68 69, Rory McIlroy 71 66, Richard Bland 69 68, Joachim B. Hansen (Den) 65 72, Adrian Meronk (Pol) 69 68

138 Paul Casey 70 68, Lee Westwood 69 69, Tommy Fleetwood 67 71, Marcus Armitage 70 68, Sam Horsfield 69 69

139 Bernd Wiesberger (Aut) 71 68, Thomas Pieters (Bel) 70 69

140 Brandon Stone (Rsa) 68 72, Andrea Pavan (Ita) 67 73, Padraig Harrington 70 70, Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Tha) 68 72, Nino Bertasio (Ita) 70 70, Scott Jamieson 69 71, Romain Langasque (Fra) 70 70, Thongchai Jaidee (Tha) 67 73

141 Collin Morikawa (USA) 68 73, Sergio Garcia (Spa) 67 74, Adam Scott (Aus) 69 72, John Catlin (USA) 72 69, Jordan Smith 72 69, Justin Walters (Rsa) 69 72, Matthias Schmid (Ger) 73 68

142 Pablo Larrazabal (Spa) 67 75, Edoardo Molinari (Ita) 70 72, Kalle Samooja (Fin) 68 74, Matt Wallace 69 73, George Coetzee (Rsa) 70 72, Soeren Kjeldsen (Den) 69 73

143 Lucas Herbert (Aus) 70 73, Garrick Higgo (Rsa) 70 73, Haotong Li (Chn) 73 70, Joakim Lagergren (Swe) 69 74, Richie Ramsay 74 69, Matthew Jordan 70 73, Jazz Janewattananond (Tha) 71 72, Nicolai von Dellingshausen (Ger) 77 66, Ross Fisher 71 72, Charl Schwartzel (Rsa) 74 69, Ricardo Gouveia (Por) 71 72

144 Thorbjoern Olesen (Den) 73 71, Rasmus Hoejgaard (Den) 73 71, Sebastian Soederberg (Swe) 70 74, Grant Forrest 70 74, Ignacio Elvira (Spa) 70 74, Daniel van Tonder (Rsa) 73 71, Antoine Rozner (Fra) 71 73, Josh Hill 70 74, Alexander Bjoerk (Swe) 75 69, Laurie Canter 75 69, Shubhankar Sharma (Ind) 72 72, Maverick Antcliff (Aus) 69 75, Lucas Bjerregaard (Den) 71 73, David Law 70 74, Sebastian Garcia (Spa) 68 76, David Drysdale 74 70

145 Shane Lowry 71 74, Henrik Stenson (Swe) 73 72, Rafael Cabrera (Spa) 72 73, Dean Burmester (Rsa) 71 74, Jorge Campillo (Spa) 72 73, Victor Perez (Fra) 73 72, Ashun Wu (Chn) 75 70, Johannes Veerman (USA) 71 74, Daniel Gavins 70 75, Thomas Bjorn (Den) 75 70, Andy Sullivan 72 73, Alexander Levy (Fra) 74 71, Adrian Otaegui (Spa) 71 74, David Horsey 72 73, Ryan Fox (Nzl) 72 73, Julien Guerrier (Fra) 73 72, Robert Rock 72 73

146 Mikko Korhonen (Fin) 73 73, Paul Waring 74 72, Sam Bennett (USA) 70 76, Jamie Donaldson 75 71, Maximilian Kieffer (Ger) 73 73, Connor Syme 75 71

147 Danny Willett 73 74, Stephen Gallacher 72 75, Kristoffer Broberg (Swe) 74 73, Miguel Angel Jimenez (Spa) 74 73, Thomas Detry (Bel) 76 71, Matthias Schwab (Aut) 72 75, Joost Luiten (Ned) 73 74, Rikard Karlberg (Swe) 74 73, Dale Whitnell 73 74

148 Marcus Kinhult (Swe) 75 73, Guido Migliozzi (Ita) 75 73, Marcus Helligkilde (Den) 73 75

149 Robert MacIntyre 74 75, Nicolai Hoejgaard (Den) 77 72, Scott Hend (Aus) 76 73, Adria Arnaus (Spa) 75 74, James Morrison 73 76, Wade Ormsby (Aus) 76 73, Alejandro Canizares (Spa) 74 75, Callum Shinkwin 72 77, Jack Singh-Brar 72 77

150 Steven Brown 75 75, Masahiro Kawamura (Jpn) 76 74, Chris Paisley 75 75

151 Chris Wood 74 77, Sean Crocker (USA) 73 78, Marc Warren 73 78

152 Takumi Kanaya (Jpn) 76 76, Ian Poulter 74 78, Thriston Lawrence (Rsa) 76 76, Jeff Winther (Den) 78 74, Jonathan Caldwell 71 81, Colin Montgomerie 80 72, Jason Scrivener (Aus) 78 74, Darius van Driel (Ned) 77 75, Victor Dubuisson (Fra) 79 73, Richard Sterne (Rsa) 74 78

153 Nicolas Colsaerts (Bel) 76 77

154 Sami Valimaki (Fin) 77 77

156 Darren Fichardt (Rsa) 80 76

157 Wil Besseling (Ned) 77 80, Matthew Southgate 79 78

158 Francesco Laporta (Ita) 79 79

159 Ahmed Skaik (UAE) 75 84

160 Tapio Pulkkanen (Fin) 80 80