Rory McIlroy’s second round 68 kept him at the top of the leaderboard at the halfway stage of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
The 21 year old, looking to repeat his wire-to-wire victory of two years ago here, advanced to 11 under par to sit one shot ahead of in-form South African Thomas Aiken and a rejuvenated Sergio Garcia.
And former World Number One Tiger Woods is also lurking ominously after the American responded to a “scratchy” opening 71 with a magnificent best-of-the-day 66 which took him into a share of fifth place on 11 under.
Without a win for almost 15 months, he even led for a few minutes after starting the day 27th, but that was before McIlroy hit the Emirates course again.
The Northern Irishman - whose 2009 success remains his only European Tour title to date - came back from a bogey on the second with five birdies, the last of them on the long 18th, edging him ahead of ex-World Number Two Garcia and Aiken.
They both had a second successive 67, the back-to-form Spaniard keeping a bogey off his card for the second day running.
McIlroy said: "I felt a little more at ease with my swing yesterday, but I stayed patient and picked up the birdies when I could.
"Maybe this time last year I would not have been able to grind out a 68 after the start I had. Rounds like this prove I am doing the right thing.
“I really wanted that, to get to 11 under, and so it's nice to come into the weekend with a little bit of a lead.”
Garcia almost matched England’s David Howell with a hole-in-one at the seventh, but settled for birdie as the ball rolled a fraction past the cup.
“I've definitely hit the ball much better than lately, it's been pretty good so far,” said the 31 year old.
“It's been enjoyable, and I think the course is playing great. It seems like every day, it's playing a bit harder. But even like that, people still managed to shoot nice scores, so it was good to be able to keep up.”
Garcia’s top-ten finish in Qatar last week certainly seems to have reinvigorated the former Ryder Cup star.
“It has been two good rounds, but the tournament is not over,” he warned. “So I'm definitely looking forward to keeping going.
“Last week it was nice to play well on the weekend in tough conditions, and then to be able to do it yesterday and today here. Like you said, make no bogeys, it's always special and it's always nice.”
Aiken has finished in the top 14 in six of his seven European Tour events this season, and believes a maiden title is just around the corner if he can maintain his form.
“Been pretty consistent the last two years,” said the 27 year old, who held the clubhouse lead for most of the day after being amongst the early starters.
“Feel like I've been putting myself in position to win a golf tournament, and just haven't been getting it done on the weekend.
“Just been really consistent and it shows in the results, and been really happy with the way that I've been playing. And if I keep putting myself in these positions, it's inevitable that something will happen.”
Woods charged past playing partners Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer, the two men who have overtaken him on the Official World Golf Ranking.
Westwood handed in a 70 for five under, Kaymer a 71 for four under.
Woods commented: "I played myself right back into the tournament. I felt I hit the ball a lot better and the greens were absolutely perfect.
"It was steady. I didn't make as many mistakes as yesterday and I felt it was important to post a number."
Westwood, who missed the cut last week, is still searching for his sparkling best.
"I'm a bit disappointed with the way I've hit it the first two days," he commented. "You have chances out there - you've just got to be on your game."