Richard Sterne (Getty Images)
Richard Sterne birdied the final hole at Emirates Golf Club to secure a one shot halfway lead in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
The South African followed his scintillating opening 62 with two under par 70 to lie 12 under overall, one ahead of Scotland’s Stephen Gallacher and two of The European Tour’s rising stars – Dane Thorbjørn Olesen and England’s Tommy Fleetwood.
The 31 year old Sterne was unable to match his spectacular opening effort, but stayed on track for a sixth European Tour victory and first since a serious back injury restricted him to just ten appearances in two years.
World Number Eight Lee Westwood has six shots to make up - and more than 25 players to get past - after a bitterly disappointing finish.
The Englishman drove wildly into the sandy waste on the 359 yard 17th and double-bogeyed one of the easiest holes on the course where he has three times been a runner-up, then failed to get up and down from just over the last green and had to settle for a 71.
Sergio Garcia is only three behind despite a shoulder problem he thought might lead to his withdrawal, while former Ryder Cup Captain José María Olazábal shot a 67 to be tied 20th.
Sterne was in the Official World Golf Ranking's top 30 before his long battle with a back injury and currently ranks 165th.
He resumed with a birdie, but bogeyed the fourth and 14th and needed more birdies at the three par fives on the back nine to grab top spot back on 12 under par.
Sterne said: "The course was a lot tougher with the wind and the greens definitely firmed out a bit.
"I think it's going to be quite tricky coming to the weekend. There's a lot of guys bunched up and you're going to have to play pretty well to be there on Sunday.
"I had a long time sitting at home watching all the guys and especially the South Africans winning, so it's nice to be back in the action and to have a chance."
Former Challenge Tour winner Fleetwood, 22, has yet to drop a stroke and after a 68 said: "It's just nice to be up there with all these great names."
He was joint leader until Sterne's late strike and added: "I felt fine - I'd rather be there than anywhere else."
Gallacher, 38 year old nephew of ex-Ryder Cup Captain Bernard, has lifted only one European Tour title in more than 400 starts going back 20 years.
But he was joint second with Westwood a year ago and kept alive his hopes of going one better by matching Sterne's round.
Gallacher said: "It was a lot trickier with the wind switching all over the shop and I'm delighted to be still in the hunt."
Olesen is seen as one of Europe's brightest prospects. He has already secured a debut at the US Masters in April - by 0.01 OWGR points - and a fortnight ago shared the runner-up spot with Justin Rose at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.
"I believe in myself and want to achieve my own goals - that's the biggest pressure," the 23 year old said after a 66 that began with four successive birdies and again did not contain a single bogey.
His first Tour success came in Sicily last April and he added: "I'm hungry for more wins. I want to win twice this season. That's my main goal, so the quicker I can get the first one the better."