A day after being fined for slow play, England’s Matt Wallace set the pace at the halfway stage of the DP World Tour Championship, where the battle for the Race to Dubai took another twist.
Wallace added a flawless 65 to his opening 68 at Jumeirah Golf Estates to reach 11 under par, a shot ahead of former Masters champion Danny Willett.
Current Masters champion Patrick Reed is two shots off the lead after a 66 compiled in the company of Rory McIlroy, whose 67 left him a stroke further back alongside Tommy Fleetwood, Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Dean Burmester.
Fleetwood needs to win the season-ending event and see Ryder Cup partner Francesco Molinari finish outside the top five in order to retain his status as European number one, a scenario which looked unlikely when the latter carded an opening 68.
However, the Open champion struggled to a 73 on Friday to end the day in a tie for 27th on three under, six shots behind Reed in fifth place.
Wallace was fined £3,000 for taking too long over a par putt on the ninth hole on Thursday and would have faced a one-shot penalty for any further transgressions, but stayed within the time limits and birdied four of his last five holes.
Seven more birdies on Friday took the 28-year-old to the top of the leaderboard and he had no issues with the slow-play situation as he seeks the biggest win of his career and a fourth European Tour title of the season.
“We were on the clock and I managed to make a couple of birdies (on the seventh and eight), which was nice, and thought we were going to be off it pretty soon,” Wallace explained.
“And then I had a really tough two-putt on nine, I had a 40-footer up and over (a ridge) and left myself about 20 feet, so I had to reread it and that took longer than it should have done.
“I’ve never been done before so I wouldn’t say I’m slow, but it is what it is. I spoke to Andy (McFee, European Tour senior referee) afterwards and said I’m going to work on it.”
This guy’s on 🔥 Matt Wallace shot seven under today to lead the @dpwtc. The Englishman reveals the secret behind his recent surge in form #dpwtc #Mattwallace #wallace #racetodubai pic.twitter.com/fIYZr3JouT— Worldwide Golf (@WorldwideGolf) November 16, 2018
As for his recent form, Wallace – who was fifth in Sun City on Sunday – added: “I’ve got rid of all the expectations that have come with playing well and winning. I’ve expected higher from myself and that’s just killed me.
“So I’m playing with freedom now and trying to place as high as I possibly can come the back nine holes on Sunday and then that’s when I normally will try and kick in and want to win a tournament, depending on where I am.”
Fleetwood was the “last man on the range” on Thursday after scrambling to an opening 69, but struck the ball much better in a 67 that included twice three-putting for par on par fives.
“It’s still a very difficult task to win the Race to Dubai, it’s not like I’m a prolific winner this year,” Fleetwood said. “I’ve had chances and missed them so am still trying to knock on that door and win a tournament, the same as everybody is.
“There’s so many different things going on, but the situation is pretty black and white. Just keep going and put everything into it for another two days.”
McIlroy was delighted to move into contention after some indifferent form in his two starts since helping Europe regain the Ryder Cup at the end of September.
“I have to be pleased,” the four-time major winner said. “It’s a massive improvement considering the golf I’ve played the last couple of weeks. To shoot two scores in the 60s is great. I just want to give myself another chance to win a tournament. I’ve given myself plenty of chances this year. I just haven’t capitalised on those chances.”
A superb 293-yard drive from right-handed golfer Stuart Pain was the highlight as Jumeirah Golf Estates marked one month to go until the DP World Tour Championship with a ceremonial tee shot on the Earth course on Monday.
A total of US$8 million is up for grabs for the winner at the season-ending showpiece to crown the European Tour’s No 1 player following n gruelling year spanning 47 tournaments in 27 countries.
To mark the official run in to the event, future stars from the Emirates Golf Federation’s National Junior Development Programme and other key stakeholders of the tournament were invited to hit tee shots at the famous opening hole.
This will be the tenth year that Jumeirah Golf Estates will host the event and CEO Yousuf Kazim insists the venue is always striving to improve the tournament experience for visitors.
“The DP World Tour Championship is the highlight of our annual calendar. Not only does it bring the biggest names in golf to our spectacular course, but it allows us to create an annual experience that brings the wider community in the UAE together,” said Kazim.
“Each year we try to be more innovative in our approach, adding new attractions to the Village, the kids zone and the outlets that ensure the tournament becomes an unforgettable day out for everyone who visits.”
Nick Tarratt, the European Tour’s Dubai-based director said excitement is building as they count down to one of Dubai’s most popular sporting events of the year.
“We are extremely proud to be celebrating ten editions of the DP World Tour Championship,” said Tarratt.
“Through our partnership, we have been able to deliver a first-class tournament that has helped put Dubai firmly at the centre of the international sporting world as well as to grow golf locally by attracting new fans and new players to the game.”
There are five events remaining on the 2018 European Tour calendar before the DP World Tour Championship, including the Valderrama Masters, HSBC Champions, Turkish Airlines Open and Nedbank Challenge.
Englishman Eddie Pepperell won the British Masters on Sunday, which earned him 438,880 points and saw him move from 11th to seventh in the Race to Dubai rankings.
Italy’s Francesco Molinari leads the way with 4,635,909 points, followed by England’s Tommy Fleetwood in second place on 3,291,967 points.
The European Ryder Cup team sealed their sixth straight win on home soil with a resounding 17.5-10.5 triumph over Team USA and golf lovers in Dubai are set to see all 12 members of the European team in the Emirates next month.
Thomas Bjorn’s team will feature, along with the iconic Ryder Cup trophy, when the European Tour’s season-ending DP World Tour Championship takes place at Jumeirah Golf Estates from November 15-18.
Europe started the biennial tournament on the back foot having lost their opening three matches at Le Golf National on Friday before the dynamic duo of Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood put the first blue on the board with a 3&1 victory over Tiger Woods and Patrick Reed.
The result gave Europe a real boost as they went on to whitewash the Americans in the afternoon foursomes session to take a 5-3 lead heading into the second day.
Another dominant day for Europe saw them take five points from a possible eight on Saturday with the pairing of Molinari and Fleetwood proving pivotal once again as they became the first European duo in Ryder Cup history to win their opening four matches in group play.
With a four point deficit to make up in the final day singles, the US got off to the perfect start after picking up 2.5 points in the opening three games thanks to Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka and Webb Simpson.
But defending DP World Tour Championship winner Jon Rahm got Europe their first full point with a 2&1 victory over Woods which started a surge of blue victories.
Six of the last eight matches all went the way of the home side which included Ryder Cup legend Ian Poulter defeating world No1 Dustin Johnson 2up, Thorbjorn Olesen thrashing Jordan Spieth 5&4 and Molinari sealing the winning point after becoming the first European to win five points in a single Ryder Cup with a 4&2 defeat of Phil Mickelson.
European Ryder Cup Captain Thomas Bjorn said: “I felt all along that this was a good group of guys, but I have to say, when we got here on Monday, we got together.
“This turned out pretty exciting because the way that the 12 of them have just joined up together as a team and the way they looked after each other throughout the whole week made captaincy pretty easy.
“I can’t describe how I feel about the 12 players. They have been amazing from day one, and I’m just so proud of them.”
America’s Patrick Reed, who managed one point from a possible four, is also set to line up at the DP World Tour Championship with the Masters tournament champion currently sitting in second place on the Race to Dubai rankings.
“We are so excited that all members of the victorious European Ryder Cup team will be coming to Dubai to play in the 2018 DP World Tour Championship,” said Nick Tarratt, Director European Tour International, Dubai Office.
“It was a special week for everyone in Paris and Dubai will be perhaps the first time the 12 will all be playing in the same tournament.
“We will also welcome captain Thomas Bjorn to Dubai in other roles around the DP World Tour Championship so it will be a full house. We have also started discussions for the Ryder Cup trophy to be on display during the week.
“This Ryder Cup victory will energise the local golfing community and it is a great start to the build up to the 2018 DP World Tour Championship.”
The DP World Tour Championship takes place at Jumeirah Golf Estates from Thursday to Sunday, November 15-18.