England's David Howell, winner of the Australian PGA Championship in November, added a 68 to his opening 69 to take the halfway lead in the Dubai Desert Classic at Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club, but it was the Head Pro at the host club, Peter Downie, who proved to be the surprise package.
Downie couldn’t sleep a wink on Wednesday night, fearing that he might disgrace himself over his home course.
Instead, his fears proved groundless as the 36-year-old Scots-born Head Pro at the host club fired a second successive 69 to find himself in the improbable position of one stroke off the lead at the halfway stage.
While major champions Nick Faldo and Ian Woosnam packed their bags after missing the cut, Downie had to pinch himself to believe that his six-under-par total of 138 was just one behind leader David Howell of England.
"It’s beyond my wildest dreams that I could ever put two 69s back to back on this course the way it’s set up. I couldn’t sleep on Wednesday. I really thought I was going to shoot 90!"
Howell, with a win in Australia under his belt, added a 68 to his opening 69 to indicate that he may soon also be a winner on the European Tour.
His round contained six birdies and followed an eight week injury lay-off. Howell suffered ligament and Achilles tendon damage to his right ankle playing tennis on the way he returned from Down Under and he was out of action for eight weeks.
Now a European Tour win and a placing in the top 15 on the Volvo Order of Merit are the targets for the 23-year-old, who is another member of the International Sports Management stable which houses Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke.
At the moment, Westwood and Clarke are on 143, one under par, while Howell and another of the stable, Paul McGinley, are right up among the leaders.
Irishman McGinley tagged a 71 to his opening 67 to be on 138 along with Australian Wayne Riley and Downie. McGinley reached eight under par at one stage to head Howell but slipped back with two bogeys over the last six holes.
Masters and Open champion Mark O’Meara displayed typical courage after an indifferent start. The American, who started at the 10th, was level par with five to play. However he caught fire by eagling the fifth and birdieing the sixth, seventh and ninth for a rounds of 67 and five under par total of 139.
Warren Bennett, the young Englishman who won the European Challenge Tour by a huge margin last year, again showed the value of that schooling by shooting a 69 to match O’Meara’s total.