It’s turning out to be a case of if it’s a golf tournament on a Friday in the UAE, it’s got to be Danny Willett’s day.
The 26-year-old, who raced into contention with a second-round nine-under par 63 exactly a fortnight ago in Abu Dhabi, repeated the feat at the Majlis course when a seven-under par 65 – the lowest round of the day along with Brooks Koepka – catapulted him to tied third at eight-under par 136.
After plunging from a depth of 13,000 feet at the beginning of the week, when he performed a skydive with his wife to raise money for a breast cancer charity, it was time to zoom up the leaderboard for Willet, who is just three shots behind leader Rory McIlroy at the halfway stage.
After a round that had just one bogey and included a stretch of six holes in his front nine in which he made five birdies, Willett said: “The skydive was obviously a different way to start the week.
“But in all fairness, if you stand on the first tee, trying to hit a drive into the fairway, it seemed a little bit less nerve‑wracking than jumping out of a plane at 13,000 feet. You never know, that might have prepared us quite well.
“As soon as you jump out, you are looking down and all you can see is obviously the sea and surrounding area and you’re thinking, what are we doing here?
“Then after the initial jump, you start to level out and it feels like you’re just floating down. It’s an unbelievable feeling.”
On his position on the leaderboard, Willett added: “At the moment, it’s pretty good. I am playing really nicely and the consistency is still there from the last few weeks. We played lovely, so we are up there again for the weekend.”
Rory McIlroy reluctantly revealed he was not in the best physical condition as he struggled to a two-under par 70 round – but he still enjoyed a one-shot lead at the halfway stage of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
“We ordered some seafood takeaway last night and it did not agree with me. I did not feel too well this morning, and I did not have much to eat. But I don’t want to use that as an excuse,” said McIlroy, who needed to make a birdie on the final hole to finish the day one ahead of American Brooks Koepka (65) at 11-under par 133.
After a sparkling round of 63 on the opening day, McIlroy’s second-round 70 was played in three distinct phases. He struggled early on with his driver, before a birdie on the third settled him down. The world No6 then hit some great shots from the fourth to the 13th hole, before a missed par putt from two feet unsettled him again.
“Making a few birdies on the front nine and turning in two‑under par was a good effort, especially after the wind started to get up,” said McIlroy.
“I missed that little one on 13 and had a chance on 15 and didn’t convert and made bogey on 16. “But it was nice to birdie the last and at least give myself a one‑shot lead going into tomorrow. But yeah, just go back tonight and sort of regroup and realise that I’m still leading the tournament.”
But McIlroy said he did not lose the plot after the short putt he missed for par on the 13th.
“No, not at all,” he added. “I was just sort of more frustrated because the back nine is the nine that you want to build your score on and playing the harder nine in two‑under par, I thought I did well there.
“I was a little frustrated not to get a few more birdies on that back nine.
“But as I said, a good, positive way to finish the round with a nice birdie on 18.”
The wind certainly made scoring more difficult, but McIlroy said he would not mind more of the same conditions over the next couple of days.
“The wind was certainly up. I just didn’t feel quite as comfortable as I did yesterday. But you know, it was playing a little differently,” he said. “I think the wind is supposed to get up the next couple of days, as well.
"It was good to play a little bit of golf in that wind, and I don’t mind if it gets up the next couple days because I feel like I’m hitting the ball well enough. “The wind usually makes it a bit more of a ball‑striking contest. So, I don’t mind if it blows a little bit.”
McIlroy is scheduled to tee off today at 12:45 UAE time along with Koepka.
Rory McIlroy endured a frustrating day on the greens at the Dubai Desert Classic on Friday, but he still reached the tournament's halfway stage with a one-stroke lead.
The Ulsterman struggled off the tees early on in his second round, but by the turn he had briefly eased three strokes clear of the field, only for his putting woes and a charge by rising US star Brooks Koepka to keep him in check.
McIlroy had a 70 to stand at 11-under 133, with Koepka, a year younger than McIlroy at 23, equalling the day's best round of 65 to get to 10 under.
"It was a round that could have been much better. Still, shooting a couple under par and finishing with a nice birdie the way I did. I'm leading the golf tournament. I've been in this position before and I've gone on to win," McIlroy said.
Three strokes off the pace on eight under came Damien McGrane (70) of Ireland, Englishman Danny Willett (65) and Julien Quesne of France (70).
Defending champion Stephen Gallacher of Scotland (71) and European number one Henrik Stenson of Sweden (67) were among those on seven under.
It was another disappointing day for Tiger Woods, who struggled with the putter all the way en route to a 73, which left him eight shots adrift of playing partner McIlroy and well down the field.
Looking to make it two wins and a second place in his last three tournaments, McIlroy had the luxury of taking the morning off watching to see whether anyone could overhaul him after his stunning nine-under 63 on Thursday.
Several challengers came and went, especially McGrane, Willett and Italian Ryder Cup star Edoardo Molinari. But no-one was able to dislodge McIlroy from the lead.
For a brief moment it looked like he would do that all by himself as he started his second round with three wayward drives. He dropped one at the first, but scrambled to save par at the second, and a superb bunker shot at the par-five third gave him a birdie as he got back to nine under.
Watched by wife-to-be, tennis player Caroline Wozniacki, McIlroy then birdied the fifth and the seventh to increase his lead at the top to three shots.
But just when it looked like he was about to clamp a serious stranglehold on a tournament which was his first triumph as a professional in 2009, McIlroy let it briefly slip – missing a two-footer for par at the 13th and erring off the tee at the 16th.
Koepka, who opted to play on the European Tour Challenger circuit after graduating from his US college in May, 2012, was flawless with seven bogeys in his 65.
"It reminds me a lot of American courses," the Floridian said. "It's weird, it's a course set up for a drawer and I fade the ball. So it's a little tougher for me, but I've been playing well so I can't complain."
Woods, playing in his second tournament of the year after missing the final cut at Torrey Pines last week, never looked like getting fully into his stride, despite an encouraging birdie at the third. Bogeys at six and nine set him back and from there on in he was unable to get any momentum going in a tournament he has twice won.
"I just didn't hit it close enough. Didn't hit it well. Struggled with it and had a bad warm-up as well, and just one of those days," he said.
World number three Stenson moved ominously up the leaderboard as he recovered from a horror start to Thursday's opening round when he was three over after just five holes.
The big Swede had five birdies in his 67 that hoisted him up the leaderboard at seven under on a course he knows as well as anyone.
"I've played a lot of golf around here and you know where to go and where not to. There's not too many courses I know better that the Majlis," he said.
Three-time former winner Ernie Els was also in better nick with a 70, but at level par for the tournament, the South African was just outside the projected cut mark.