It is a measure of a golfer’s ability that, even when not playing at the top of his game he can still post a score on the board. Henrik Stenson proved that, along with his growing stature on The European Tour, when he moved into the lead at the halfway stage of The Commercialbank Qatar Masters.
The 29 year Swede was not as fluent as during his opening 66 at the impressive Doha Golf Club but, nevertheless, his battling 68 for a ten under par total of 134 was sufficient to see him move into pole position in the race for the €275,456 (£188,716) first prize.
Nearest challenger is the man with whom he shared the first round lead, Argentina’s Ricardo Gonzalez, who posted a 69 for a nine under par total of 135 while the English duo of Nick Dougherty and Richard Finch finished in a share of fourth place on eight under par 136 after respective second rounds of 67 and 68.
Last week Stenson finished second to Chris DiMarco in the capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi, and was second to Els in Qatar 12 months ago. However, if he shows the same grit and determination as he did in his second round, then he will be a hard man to shift in his quest to go one better.
At the turn in one under par 35, the Swede did not drop a shot to par on his inward half and even managed to squeeze three birdies out of the nine holes, at the fourth and the eighth and also at the 486 yard par four sixth, where he hit his shot of the day, a four iron second shot to three feet for a birdie three.
“It was a bit of a mixed bag out there but I just fought hard and made a couple of putts and a couple of scrambles but there was a lot of ups and down and didn’t really get into my game either,” he said. “It was a bit of a struggle but a 68 is a 68 no matter how it looks.
“I think my short game has blended in with the long game over the last couple of years now and it feels like I am not really poor in any department now and if I am not feeling I am putting that good, you know, you can be a bit unhappy with the way you stroke it but you can still make the putts.
“I think it was a bit like that today. I made a couple of good putts today even though I didn’t feel overly confident standing up to them. It is more a blend of every department in the game being of a fairly high standard.”
While Stenson is widely touted as a certainly to make his Ryder Cup debut at The K Club in September, another player a lot of people hope will join him is Dougherty and the young Englishman admitted he was enjoying leading the chase of a player he rates highly.
“At the moment, on current form, he (Stenson) is the best player in Europe,” said Dougherty. “He hits the ball such a long way. I’m not short but he hits it into a different ballpark from me. He is putting solidly too and making some clutch putts at the right time.”
Dougherty’s 67 was one of the best rounds of a testing second day and the Englishman returned one of the few cards not stained by blue bogey figures. He started with a birdie at the tenth, followed that with further birdies at the 16th and 17th and notched further gains on the inward half at the second and seventh.
“I’ve changed my swing a little bit after doing some work with David Leadbetter and I have improved on what I had last year,” he said. “The technical parts of the swing I am doing correctly but it is the timing of it which is difficult. But the more I do it, the more confidence I get.”
Separating the potential Ryder Cup duo is Gonzalez who admitted pleased to be in such a prominent position despite feeling fatigued.
“I didn’t play quite as well as I did yesterday because I am feeling a little tired to be honest,” said the Argentine who carded five birdies and two bogeys in his 69. “My legs are quite sore and tired, I don’t know why, maybe it is the pressure of being up there with the leaders again.
“But apart from that I am happy with the way things have gone over the first two rounds. Tonight I will try to relax and have a good rest so that I am ready for tomorrow.”
While Gonzalez has tasted victory three times in his European Tour career, a man looking for his first win is Finch and the 28 year old Englishman gave himself a chance with a fine showing, which included a birdie four at his last hole, the 639 yard ninth, to move into contention.
“I'm really pleased but there’s a long way to go yet,” he said. “It's only halftime and we'll have to see. But I'm pleased with the way I'm playing and the scores that I've posted so far. Just hope to keep my form in the next two rounds.”
Further down the leaderboard, defending champion Ernie Els made his own little bit of history when he made the cut to equal Bernhard Langer’s record of 69 consecutive cuts made on The European Tour, the South African’s own particular odyssey beginning in the 2000 Johnnie Walker Classic in Taiwan.
While Els was pleased to be in the field for the weekend, he was less than happy with the end to his round which saw him bogey the seventh and eighth holes (his 16th and 17th) on his way to his second consecutive 71 and a two under par total of 142.
Els’s finish mirrored that of World Number Two Vijay Singh who dropped shots at the 15th and 17th on his way also to a one under par 71 and a level par total of 144.