Rory McIlroy tunes out the noise with a flawless 64 in Dubai Desert Classic

World number one determined to end run of three successive second places on tour

So much for distraction. If the sense that Rory McIlroy’s professional pursuits have not been harmed by the imminent nature of a court case with his former managers was not already clear, a second round of 64 at the Dubai Desert Classic hammered home the point. He continues to perform as if he is without a care in the world.

McIlroy leads this event at the halfway point for the fifth time in his career. The nature of his performance so far in reaching 14 under par would be impressive enough without high-profile legal matters as a backdrop. Golf’s top-ranked player has an ability to shut out external matters which rivals anyone in sport. Playing each half of the course in 32 shots illustrated the consistency in McIlroy’s game; for now, not a single part of it looks weak.

“I feel very comfortable, I feel similar,” said McIlroy when asked to compare his form to that which brought two major championships last year. “The run of golf that I have produced since the summer has been very good, very consistent, shooting really good scores.

Comfortable “I saw a stat yesterday from the first round of the Open; I have played 45 rounds and a third of them were 66 or better. So that just shows you the level that I am sort of at and just very comfortable with my game. I continue to work hard and this is the result, which is nice.”

McIlroy is looking to end a run of three second places in succession on the European Tour. “With how I’m playing, I want to take advantage,” he added. “I know I’m playing well enough to win. So there’s no point in being satisfied with second, when you know you’re playing well enough to lift trophies.”

Not that McIlroy will have the closing 36 holes all his own way, as he readily acknowledged. What can be said with confidence is this event looks set for a thrilling conclusion, regardless of who lifts the trophy on Sunday evening.

A dozen players lie within four shots of the lead; notable among that group are Lee Westwood, Graeme McDowell and Peter Uihlein, the young American. Andy Sullivan, who played in the company of McIlroy and Martin Kaymer, added a 68 to his first round of 65. Two Scots are firmly in the mix: Marc Warren, who carded a second-round 65, is only a stroke adrift of McIlroy, and Stephen Gallacher, who is seeking what would constitute a remarkable third Desert Classic victory in succession, is three shots behind the leader.

“It’s a very bunched leaderboard,” McIlroy said. “I know I’m going to have to go out there and make a bunch of birdies over the weekend, just like I have the first two days. I have to stay aggressive, stick to the game plan and try to make as many birdies as I can. You can’t play defensively on this golf course, especially with the conditions, which are absolutely perfect. Guys are going to make birdies and going to hole putts; I’m going to have to do the same.”

Westwood is yet to make a bogey, which is testament to the strength of his game at present. His 68 on Friday would have been better but for a series of missed opportunities on the greens.

“You get days like that,” Westwood said. “The nice thing was I hit a lot of good putts but some days they don’t go in. If you misread the grain, it doesn’t take a lot to miss a putt.

“I felt as if the grass grew during the day. I found myself with a lot of into-the-grain putts which I struggled to get rolling into the hole.

“You don’t know how you’re going to come out of the winter break but I’ve come out of it pretty sharp and hitting the ball well. I’m pleased with my total over the first two days and looking forward to a good weekend and getting into contention and hopefully winning.”

Derail his challenge

Gallacher’s 67 was marred only by a double bogey at the 12th. It is to the Ryder Cup player’s credit that it did not derail his challenge; he played the closing stretch in four under.

“I’m delighted with the way I played today,” Gallacher said. “That was the strongest I think I’ve played around here. I gave myself a lot of chances. To be in touch going into the weekend is exactly where you want to be.”

This was not such a happy scene for Javier Ballesteros, son of Seve, who missed the cut in his first European Tour event as a professional, with a dismal aggregate of 20 over par. Sergio García and Matteo Manassero were among the others to make an early exit. Guardian Service