Rory McIlroy kept up his hopes of a first win on the European Tour since he capped a triumphant 2012 in Dubai as he retained the lead in the Emirate on Friday.
The former world number one bogeyed his first hole of the second day at the Dubai Desert Classic, but carded 70 to take a one-shot lead over Brooks Koepka of the United States.
It’s been a lean 14 months for the Northern Irishman, who has endured a period he could barely have imagined when he won the World Tour Championship in Dubai at the end of 2012 – a victory that meant he had headed the money lists in both Europe and the United States, after also winning the PGA Championship by a record eight strokes, and the Ryder Cup with Europe for good measure.
I've been in this position before and I've gone on to win, so I know what it takes.
Since, his game has wobbled but his opening-round 63 on Thursday indicated he was getting back on track before a more pedestrian second round nevertheless kept him at the top of the leaderboard.
His playing partner, world number one Tiger Woods, was three shots poorer with 73, and tied for 44th place at the Emirates Golf Club.
Matching Koepke’s 65 on Friday was English golfer Danny Willett, who took the lead earlier in the day before ending three shots behind McIlroy.
Willett is looking for just his second European Tour win, although his preparations for a tilt at the $417,000 first prize were somewhat unorthodox.
The 26-year-old, along with his wife and caddie, skydived from 4,000 metres above Dubai’s skyscrapers and beaches to raise money for charity.
He was up and down in even more style on Friday, getting birdies on five of his closing six holes.
“Trying to hit a drive into the fairway seemed a little bit less nerve-wracking than jumping out of a plane at 13,000 feet,” he said.
McIlroy, 24, may have had some nerves after his opening drive, which he pulled into the rough on the way to his first bogey of the tournament.
The world number six then reasserted his grip but two bogeys at 13 and 16 threatened to pull the former U.S. Open champion back into the pack, before a birdie on the last gave him some narrow breathing space going into Saturday’s third round.
“Even though I didn’t play as well as I would’ve liked today, I’m still leading the golf tournament,” McIlroy said.
“I’ve been in this position before and I’ve gone on to win, so I know what it takes.”