Asian number one Thongchai Jaidee carded a bogey-free second round six under par 66 to claim a one shot halfway lead at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
World Number Four Lee Westwood blazed a flawless seven under par 65 in his best ever showing in 50 rounds at Emirates Golf Club to head the chasing pack at seven under alongside early pacesetters Stephen Dodd and Miguel Angel Jiménez.
Evergreen Spaniard Jiménez blazed seven birdies in a five under par 67, while Wales’ Dodd remained in contention with a bogey-free 69.
World Number 59 Thongchai, who posted two European Tour victories last season, is reaping the benefits of long hours spent on the putting green to fine tune the weaker aspect of his game.
“I played very consistent, it was a solid day,” said the 40 year old former paratrooper.
“I hit 13 greens in regulation, missed just five fairways. I am very confident because my putting is getting better, that’s why my game is getting better.”
Defending champion Rory McIlroy (70), Edoardo Molinari (70), Alvaro Quiros (69), Australia’s Marcus Fraser (68) and Charl Schwartzel (70) are all well-placed at six under, with a two shot gap to Paul Casey (71), Graeme McDowell (68) and Jeev Milkha Singh (72).
Westwood is still not fully satisfied with his new driver after cracking the face of his previous club in Qatar, but continued his love affair with Dubai following his superb Dubai World Championship presented by: DP World success at the end of last year.
After earning a share of the lead with a superb up and down from the rough after driving the reachable par four 17th, the 36 year old missed a ten foot birdie chance at the last after a poor tee shot forced Westwood to lay-up.
He was briefly tempted to try for the green over the lake, but after a warning from caddie Billy Foster and after watching player partner Henrik Stenson find the water, opted to play safe.
“I think we have had the hardest conditions over the first couple of days in the morning and then the afternoon. But you try and make the best of whatever is thrown at you,” said Westwood, who opened with a level par 72.
“And if you come out on the right end of that, obviously it gives you a massive confidence boost and it’s a big pat on the back.
“It’s the goal all the time to get into contention and keep testing yourself and getting accustomed to being under pressure.”
McIlroy looked in ominous form as the World Number Nine briefly established a three shot lead at eight under par in the morning following a run of four consecutive birdies around the turn.
But the 20 year old, who claimed his first and only career title with a wire-to-wire victory 12 months ago, found water at the last to ship a double bogey after leaving a seven iron approach just short to card a two under par 70.
“I am still happy where I am heading into the weekend. Apart from the mistake at the last it was another really good day’s work. I putted really solidly, made a few birdies around the turn and also could have made a few more,” said McIlroy.
“There is a little bit of a sour taste in the mouth after the last hole. I had not made a mistake all day and to do it at the last was disappointing, but if I make two birdies in the first two holes tomorrow all is forgotten.”
Italian amateur Matteo Manassero carded a 72 to comfortably beat the cut at a second successive European Tour event with eight-time Major winner Tom Watson two shots further back after a two under par 70.