Many years ago, Sergio Garcia was close to forging a deep relationship with Jumeirah Golf Estates. The Spaniard, along with the legendary Pete Dye and Greg Norman, was announced as designer of the Wind course that was supposed to be a part of the property.
That did not materialize as the economic downturn in 2009 forced the developers to change the masterplan. But ask Garcia about it, and he gets a bit emotional. After all, Wind was supposed to be his debut as a golf course designer.
“It’s a shame it did not happen. I was looking forward to working with Pete Dye and Greg. We really had some great plans for the golf course,” said Garcia.
On Friday, however, Garcia showed he has some great plans for the Earth course too. The Spaniard, known as one of the finest ball-strikers in the game, put together a masterclass as a five-under par 67 gave him the lead at the DP World Tour Championship at nine-under par, which was matched moments later by Italy’s Francesco Molinari.
A final-hole bogey by overnight leader Lee Westwood (70) denied him a share of the lead as he took sole possession of the third place at eight-under par, while a group of four players – England’s Tyrrell Hatton (66), Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger (67), South African Charl Schwartzel (67) and Dutchman Joost Luiten (69) – were tied for the fourth place at seven-under par.
The most exciting moment in Garcia’s round came on the par-4 12th hole, one of two holes he erred off the tee, the other being the 13th, where he made his only bogey.
After hitting his drive left into the bushes and being forced to take a penalty drop, the world No15 still managed to make what he called a “career four”.
“I was fortunate a guy from the crowd found it for me and I was able to drop outside the bush,” said the man whose last European Tour win was in January 2014 at the Qatar Masters.
“I hit a really good shot from there with a seven iron and made a really nice putt. I had a good feeling on that putt. I felt like I was going to make it and it was one of those career fours.”
Overall, Garcia was delighted with the way he played the first two days.
“It was good fun. I mean, I try to enjoy myself as much as possible every time. Obviously, when you’re playing well, it’s a little easier. It was a good day,” said the Spanish Ryder Cup star.
“I did feel quite comfortable, other than a couple shots on the back nine, the tee shot on 12 and 13. But other than that, I felt quite comfortable.
“I felt like I was swinging the club really, really well. I was hitting a lot of good shots. Hit a couple iffy putts here and there but I made some really good ones also. I was very happy to see all of that.”
Molinari seemed to be celebrating the good news about his elder brother Edoardo, who had lost his European Tour playing privilege, regaining his card by finishing second in the Qualifying School.
Molinari matched Garcia with six birdies and a solitary bogey, and said: “It was another good day and I played well.
“Maybe yesterday the start was even better, but played solid pretty much all the round. I think I had a little lapse in concentration on the 10th and then recovered well. I’m happy where I am after two rounds.
“This is the second year Edoardo has done this through the Qualifying School. I’m sure he will do his best next season not to show up there for a third time. It sounds like he’s playing a lot better, so I’m expecting good things from him next season.”
Westwood looked in good position to retain sole possession of the lead after a great drive down the par-5 18th hole, but his second shot rolled into the water and he ended up with a bogey.
Rory McIlroy’s first round at the DP World Tour Championship was what the statisticians call an outlier – a freak reading that is miles away from other observations.
That 75 was his first-ever over-par effort in 29 rounds, starting from the opening day of the inaugural event in 2009. But yesterday, it was business as usual as the world No2 returned to his sub-par ways at the Earth course of Jumeirah Golf Estates.
The Northern Irishman shot a four-under par 68, completing his round nearly an hour before the leaders teed off and moving to one-under par for the tournament at the halfway stage.
After a round of six birdies and two bogeys, the reigning FedEx Cup champion said: “I held a few more putts today. Mentally on Friday, I was still on holiday I think. I just wasn’t really with it. Wasn’t at the races. I felt a bit better out there on Saturday.
“I think I was still on the beach after two weeks off. I wasn’t switched on. It was just a bad day.”
McIlroy, who needs to win the tournament to have any chance of winning a third Race to Dubai honour, did not rule himself out just yet.
“I’m five behind the lead right now, but you know, depending on what Lee (Westwood) and some of the guys that played well yesterday do – I am hoping for a bit of wind this afternoon and some difficult conditions – if one of the guys doesn’t get past 10-under this afternoon, then I feel like I still have a bit of a chance going into the weekend,” said McIlroy moments after finishing his round.
“Even if I’m eight or nine shots back heading into the weekend, I still feel I’ll have a decent chance. If I keep improving I might not be far away.”
On Saturday, McIlroy will tee off at 10:15 along with Sweden’s Joakim Lagergren.
Sergio Garcia and Francesco Molinari shot matching scores of 5 under par 67 to share the halfway lead after the second round of the DP World Tour Championship.
Both men posted six birdies with just one bogey apiece to take a one-stroke lead over Lee Westwood into today’s third round at 9 under par 135.
Seven players were tied for the lead at one point before Garcia, Molinari and Westwood pulled away over the closing holes, with the Englishman shooting a bogey on the last when he found the water with his second shot.