Irishman Paul McGinley conjured 13 birdies in 22 holes to surge up the leaderboard and into a one shot lead from his playing partner, Mark O’Meara, at the Dubai Desert Classic, with the double Major winner from America firing a superb second round 64.
Both players completed their first rounds on Friday morning, but only after Thursday’s fog delay was compounded by another early morning layer of mist at the Emirates Golf Club in Dubai, which forced the second round to run into Saturday morning.
That meant first round leader Bradley Dredge had to wait over 14 hours to complete the second round, but he finished in some style with an eagle at the 18th to take him into third place on nine under par after his second round 71.
McGinley, with six holes to play of his opening round, began the day by birdieing the last four holes of his first round, and then began the second round with another four consecutive birdies .
The 37 year old, who will always be remembered for that winning putt in The 35th Ryder Cup Matches, went on to rattle in a further four birdies and drop just one shot as he took the clubhouse lead at 11 under par.
O’Meara obviously made a conscious decision not to stand back and admire his playing partner’s skill – and made his own considerable contribution to the overall, outstanding quality of the tournament with nine birdies and a solitary bogey to record the best second round of the day, eight under par, 64.
“It's a funny game,” said McGinley after spending the day making birdie after birdie over the par 72, 7201 yard Emirates Golf Club. “You know, I thought I played really well last week in Malaysia and what did I shoot? One under par maybe?
“I thought I played the same today, but instead of my nine iron finishing 15 feet behind the pin, it was finishing a foot away today. Things just worked out for me today. I hit a lot of good iron shots but my good shots seemed to finish a foot or two foot away, as opposed 15 feet, 20 feet and still having work to do.
“If you get one or two birdies, you tee it off, you get a bit more confident and I was able to take advantage of the par fives and all in all it was a really good day. The quality of my birdies really pleased me. You can make birdies and then you can make birdies. My birdies were good birdies. They were three feet, four feet – good control with the iron shots, and no wind of course this morning which made it a bit easier.
“But all in all, what can I say? It's been a great day. I've really enjoyed playing with Mark, obviously, and it's a good story with Mark shooting a lot of birdies, too. We certainly fed off each other, no question about that.”
O’Meara reciprocated McGinley’s compliments. The 47 year old, who picked up his two career Major wins at The Masters Tournament and The Open Championship in 1998, credits his return to form with a change in his putting grip, after struggling on the greens for the past few seasons.
“I enjoy playing with Paul,” said O’Meara. “I've known Paul for a long time. He was one over par when we came out this morning and started on the 12th hole. He hit a lot of great shots and he birdied his last four holes this morning, then he was four under for his first four holes of the second round.
“He was on a roll, and that maybe kind of spring-boarded me to make some birdies. Then he kind of quieted down a little bit and I started make something birdies and he started making some birdies and I finished with a birdie on last hole. So, it was a long day but it was an enjoyable day. It's always fun to play well.
“The last few years have been a little bit of a struggle and have not played the way I would have liked to,” he continued. “I've started to see some signs, and last year I started hitting the ball better but I just putted so poorly and I had no confidence on the greens.
“Everybody throughout my career said, ‘Mark, you're such a good putter’, but I just couldn't get it started there because I didn't know if I was going to kind of pull it, push it, my speed was off. It's just hard to compete at this high level if you're feeling that way on your putting. Then I spoke to Hank Haney who told me to change my grip to ‘the Saw’. It felt so bizarre, but all of a sudden, I had no yip in my stroke at all.”
Dredge was content with a 71 to take outright third place, after confessing to "scrambling" his way round the Emirates course during his second 18 holes. The Welshman played a solid six iron approach to 40 feet on the last green before rolling in his eagle putt.
"I had to scramble to maintain my position," said Dredge, "and the eagle on the last was a bit of a bonus. I was happy to shoot 71 the way I played."
Englishman Greg Owen - the 2003 Damovo British Masters champion - matched McGinley’s 65 to post a two round aggregate of eight under, 136 to lie joint third in the clubhouse alongside his compatriot, Brian Davis, who shot 66 in round two.
Thongchai Jaidee, the first player from Thailand to win on The European International Schedule after his victory in the Carlsberg Malaysian Open in February, joined Davis and Owen on the eight under mark after a brilliant birdie-birdie-par-eagle finish to his protracted second round.
Englishmen Paul Casey and Simon Dyson are a further shot behind on seven under after respective rounds of 68 and 69. Casey, playing in his first Dubai Desert Classic, thoroughly enjoyed his first experience of European Tour golf in the United Arab Emirates – especially as he outscored Tiger Woods on his first competitive outing alongside the World Number One, while taking every opportunity to pick the golfing brain of the best player on the planet.
“I’ve had a shaky start to both rounds,” said Casey, “so I’m happy with being seven under. I had had a practice round with Tiger before, but never played with him in a tournament. He’s always been great with me.
“I asked him about playing at Bay Hill, and the TPC Players Championship and what his thoughts on the courses were like, what I could expect – various things. I was trying to get his insight, tap into his knowledge of a few things that I’m going to experience over the next few months.”
Woods felt that he had not played to anywhere near his potential, but was therefore pleased to be lurking on the clubhouse leaderboard on five under par – alongside seven time Volvo Order of Merit Winner, Colin Montgomerie of Scotland.
“I didn’t play particularly well,” said the 28 year old. “But I ended up with a decent number to keep myself in the tournament. I basically just grinded round the golf course today – I didn’t really do anything great, just kept myself out of trouble until the last hole. I three putted there, but overall it was a good scoring round.
“Hopefully I can play a little bit better than I did today over the weekend. If I can play the way I did yesterday and make a few more putts I should be alright. I played better yesterday but just managed to play the par fives better today.”
Like Woods, European Tour Number One Ernie Els kept himself in the hunt for what would be his third Dubai Desert Classic title after his victories in 1994 and 2002 with a strong Saturday morning finish to round two, picking up three birdies to get to six under par.
The South African is tied for ninth alongside Englishman David Howell (71) and the Irish pair of Peter Lawrie (69) and Gary Murphy (67) - one shot clear of Australians Marcus Fraser (70) and Richard Green (71), Montgomerie and Woods.
The halfway cut was eventually set at level par 144 after Michael Jonzon of Sweden and Thaworn Wiratchant of Thailand, who were playing in the last group to finish the second round, both picked up birdies on 18 to finish on level par and ensure that 71 players will do battle for the €1,607,591 first prize over the final 36 holes.