Sergio Garcia burst into a share of the lead by going to the turn in a four under par 32 when the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship resumed.
But it was a different story for his two playing partners Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer. Westwood was battling to survive the halfway cut and course specialist Kaymer was heading for an early exit.
Garcia's opening one under 71 had included his first-ever European Tour hole-in-one and it earned him a three-day stay at the five-star Emirates Palace Hotel every year for life.
That was nice, but after back-to-back victories in October had put him back in the golfing spotlight the 31 year old's focus was on trying to win again at the start of Ryder Cup year.
On his return to the short 12th he made a birdie two and, having already picked up a shot at the long tenth, he moved ahead of Tiger Woods, among the day's later starters following his opening 70.
Garcia then bogeyed the 14th, but another two came on the 177 yard next, a 25 footer found the cup at the 17th and he completed the back nine by rolling in a 12 foot birdie putt.
On five under he was alongside not only Rory McIlroy and Robert Karlsson, the two overnight leaders, but also Masters Tournament champion Charl Schwartzel, who while the other two waited to tee off again birdied the 11th, 15th and 17th.
World Number Two Westwood, on the other hand, fell to three over with a hat-trick of bogeys from the 12th, but got back up to joint 54th with birdies on the final two holes of the inward half. The top 65 and ties go through to the closing two rounds.
Kaymer needed a sparkling front nine to have a chance of that after a front nine 35 left him four over and joint 100th.
The defending champion, winner three of the past four years, had left himself a mountain to climb with his initial 77.
Westwood was struggling with a neck and right shoulder problem and when he pushed his approach to the first into a bunker and failed to get up and down, he was outside the cut mark again on two over.
Garcia was in the same trap and though he saved his par, he and Schwartzel found themselves overtaken by Dane Thorbjørn Olesen, out in 32 to reach six under.
As Westwood dropped another stroke on the third his trainer Steve McGregor told Sky Sports: "It's obviously difficult to assess while he's out on the course, but Lee has come into the tournament with some restriction limitations in his neck, some tightness, and that can radiate down his arm through the nerve.
"That's what it looks like, but we'll make an assessment after the round."
On three over he was down into a tie for 82nd, but there was still a chance for him. Kaymer ran up a six on the long second, bogeyed the third as well after straying into thick rough by the green and at seven over there appeared no way back for the German, who had shot 68 or better in 15 of his previous 16 rounds over the lay-out.
Westwood showed his fighting qualities with birdies on the fourth and fifth, and probably needed to make four closing pars to stay alive in the event.
He was a long way behind Olesen by then, though. The 22 year old, who had three runner-up finishes in his rookie year last season, had four birdies in five holes around the turn and at eight under was three clear of the field.
Garcia bogeyed the fifth and Schwartzel the fourth, but Padraig Harrington started the front nine with four successive birdies and on five under was up into a tie for second with McIlroy, Karlsson and Scot Paul Lawrie, who birdied the fourth, eighth and ninth to turn in 33.