Charl Schwartzel took over from his fellow South African Anton Haig at the top of the leaderboard midway through a sensational second day of the Commercialbank Qatar Masters presented by Dolphin Energy.
Schwartzel moved to the head of proceedings with a flawless five under par 67 for a halfway total of seven under par 137 at Doha Golf Club, one shot clear of England’s David Howell and Swede Alexander Noren.
Another Englishman Nick Dougherty birdied the last three holes for a five under par 67 to lie just two back alongside Scot Colin Montgomerie, who headed off in search of come haggis to celebrate Burns Night after his round of 68.
A number of players arrived in Doha looking to shake off a bit of winter rust, but not Schwartzel, who has been competing on the Sunshine Tour apart from a two week break over Christmas. Having watched another of South Africa’s rising stars steal the limelight in the opening round, Schwartzel didn’t want to be upstaged by his ISM stable mate for a second day running and produced his own impressive performance.
Noren is another player inspired by one of his close friends and rivals. Through the winter he played and practiced in Phoenix, Arizona, with Martin Kaymer, the two having struck up a friendship during their time on the Challenge Tour two years ago. Kaymer got the better of Noren in the race to win the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year Award last season and then captured his maiden title in last week’s Abu Dhabi Golf Championship but Noren is showing he too has the game to compete at the highest level.
Howell demonstrated that “there’s more than one to skin a cat”, as he put it, as he carded a four under par 68 to lie just one shot off the lead. Howell is simply happy to have made the cut after a torrid 2007 blighted by injury and took full advantage of numerous lucky breaks.
“I think my playing partners will be as surprised as anyone to see me one shot off the lead,” he admitted. “I struggled with my driving but certainly rode my luck.”
Dougherty might not be thinking of winning at this stage as he is more concerned with bedding down some swing changes but three birdies to finish have put him right in the thick of things.
And Colin Montgomerie once again proved he can keep up with the young guns with a four birdie 68 as he looks to climb back into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Rankings. The conditions might have been more akin to Troon with players reaching for extra sweaters during a cold morning round but Montgomerie was not fazed and can celebrate Burns night in style, especially if he succeeds in his quest to find some haggis in Doha.