Rory McIlroy targets big finish in Dubai after a 67

Henrik Stenson still in pole position at Earth Course after a second round of 64


Rory McIlroy reckons he will need two rounds of 65 if he is to defend his DP World Tour Championship title after a 67 left him six shots off the pace in Dubai.

Henrik Stenson strengthened his grip on the Race to Dubai by claiming the lead at the halfway stage with 64 on the Earth Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates to finish 12 under par. The Swede is one shot ahead of Spain’s Alejandro Canizares, who added a 67 to his opening 66.

McIlroy’s round contained five birdies, an eagle and two bogeys, and the former world number was not ready to throw in the towel.

“I think somewhere around 20 under par will win so I will need a couple of 65s,” said McIlroy, who shot back-to-back rounds of 66 to win here 12 months ago. “I finally feel I have got to the stage now when I can contend week in, week out and on the rare times I have got into contention this year I feel like I have played my best golf.”

The 37-year-old Stenson is looking to become the first man to win the Race to Dubai and FedEx Cup in the same season and is on course to clinch them both in the same imperious fashion. He went into the Tour Championship in September as one of five players who could claim the FedEx Cup by winning the tournament, and did exactly that to take the $10 million bonus. And this week the Swede is one of three players in similar control of their own destiny, knowing that a win on Sunday would secure overall victory in the Race to Dubai, status as European number one and another million dollar bonus.

Graeme McDowell and Justin Rose can still deny Stenson the title with victory. The Englishman is better placed on seven under after a 67, with Northern Ireland’s McDowell four under after a 68.

A win for Ian Poulter would leave Stenson needing to finish second to claim the Harry Vardon trophy, with Poulter alongside Rose on seven under following a 68.

“I have my game plan cemented on this course and it’s been working out great the first two days,” said Stenson, who carded eight birdies and no bogeys. “It could have been a bit better but there is no point being greedy. I am delighted with the first two days’ work.

“I keep track of what’s happening with the other players, I’m too curious not to. I saw both Justin and Ian are seven under so they are chasing me as hard as they can. They are not going to back down so I better keep my foot and my head down, play another two good rounds and see where that takes me. I am in a great position to have a shot at winning and hopefully I will be there on Sunday afternoon.”

Stenson admitted he is battling fatigue from a long season as well as an ongoing wrist injury, but added: “The two days I had off on Monday and Tuesday have helped. I got the club stuck in the ground on the sixth tee and felt it there but thankfully I don’t think that made it flare up.”

Canizares has won just once on the European Tour — the Russian Open in 2006 — but boosted his chances of a second title with a brilliant par save on the 18th. Rose and Poulter have not given up their pursuit of Stenson, but Rose admitted the 7,600-yard course is “tailor-made” for the likes of Stenson and McIlroy thanks to their length off the tee.

The man McIlroy succeeded as European number one, Luke Donald, is a shot behind hte Holywood golfer after a 66 that contained six birdies in succession from the second. Donald, who only scraped into an event limited to the top 60 players on the European Tour money list in 59th place, became the first man to win the money list titles on both sides of the Atlantic in the same season in 2011 and was world number one as recently as August 2012, but has slumped to 17th in the rankings.

The 35-year-old recently started working with US PGA champion Jason Dufner’s coach Chuck Cook in an attempt to regain top form and admits he cannot wait to see the back of 2013.

“I’m looking forward to a fresh start,” Donald said. “There’s something about when that date changes (to January 1) and you can start over. Thirteen has not been a lucky number for me. The last two years I had a chance to win the Race to Dubai. This year the only thing to play for is winning this tournament. A win would dramatically change my confidence and it takes one week to turn around a year.

“I have gone through a couple of changes in my swing and was expecting everything to click into place quickly. The swing is starting to bed in and my goal is to be ready by April next year (in time for the US Masters) and have a good season.”

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