Swede Johan Edfors takes a two stroke lead into the weekend of the Commercialbank Qatar Masters presented by Dolphin Energy after a six birdie burst in seven holes took him past Charl Schwartzel and Lee Westwood.
Edfors, starting at the tenth, birdied three holes in a row from the 14th and picked up another hat-trick on the 18th, first and second holes on his way to a best-of-the-day six under par 66 and halfway total of 135, nine under par.
Westwood picked up two late birdies on a cold, blustery day at Doha Golf Club to shoot a round of 70 as he looks to follow his two joint second place finishes in his first two events of the season with a victory. In both those previous events, the HSBC Champions and last week’s Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, the Englishman was well back but this time he is right in touch with Edfors’ lead.
Edfors enjoyed a phenomenal 2006 season when he won three times and having been unable to reach those heights last year took two months off before spending ten days in an intensive training camp to get his game in shape. The work is paying off and he is back enjoying his golf again.
“I had a good think about what I did last year,” he said. “I wasn't very happy with the way I was playing last year and how I was feeling on the course. I wasn't enjoying myself as much as I usually do, and changed some aspects especially during tournament week so now I think I'm getting back into the shape that I want to be.”
Westwood is looking like being the main threat as he chases his 19th European Tour title. Nothing much was happening for the Ryder Cup player for most of the day until birdies on the 15th and 16th lifted him to within two strokes of the lead.
“If nothing goes for you, you can't be disappointed,” he said. “70 is a good score in these conditions. There's not that many people shooting that and it's there or thereabouts, two behind going into the weekend which is a lot better than last week.”
Sharing second place with Westwood is Schwartzel, who shot a flawless five under par 67 for a halfway total of seven under par 137.
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, Anton Haig, 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.
“It's definitely slowly feeling like the form is turning,” said Schwartzel. “I'm starting to hit the ball the way I see it and I'm putting well. I changed my putting grip to a claw grip and it's just rolling really nicely.”
The leaderboard is packed with quality with four players sharing fourth place on six under par including three of The European Tour’s most exciting young talents and an established star returning to form.
Alexander Noren of Sweden, South African Haig and England’s Ross McGowan, a graduate from the last year’s Challenge Tour, are the three young guns keen to make their mark while David Howell is back in contention for the first time in 12 months after a year blighted by injury.
Noren has been inspired by one of his closest 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.
“I was happy for him and I was a little bit jealous, I could tell you that,” admitted Noren. “He played very well and I need to step up a little bit to be him and it's great to see.”
Howell demonstrated that “there’s more than one way 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 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.”
McGowan also shot a 68 while Haig did well to break par after a mixed round that included a double bogey, three further bogeys but six birdies.
The quality of the leading challengers continued with Nick Dougherty, who has twice finished in the top five here, Henrik Stenson, the 2006 champion, and Colin Montgomerie all on five under par.
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.