By Bernie McGuire in Dubai.
Rory McIlroy delivered on his manager’s 40th birthday promise muscling his way into contention heading to the weekend rounds of Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic.
McIlroy was near his double Dubai success best with an eagle and four birdies in a six-under-par 66, moving to a share of fifth place at seven-under-par in glorious conditions on the Emirates course.
South African Justin Harding returned to the course early on day two and two putted the 18th for birdie after poor light had halted play on day one before adding a 68 second round to his opening 65 to move two clear of the Rolex Series field on 11-under-par.
England’s Tyrrell Hatton, five days after wishing to ‘blow-up’ the final hole at Yas Links, matched McIlroy’s 66 to be in second spot at nine-under-par.
McIlroy’s long-time good friend and manager, Sean O’Flaherty turned 40 on day two of the $8m event and while meeting his four-time major-winning client nursing a double pack of the famed Curve Clicquot, McIlroy’s gift was spot-on with a 66, and now a bigger prize of becoming only the second three-time winner of the Classic.
“It’s Sean’s 40th birthday, and he said the only thing I want for my birthday is you going out there and shooting 66,” said McIlroy smiling with O’Flaherty looking on.
“I was thinking of him on that putt over 18 for 66 and was able to hole it. It’s not the only thing he’ll get for his birthday but it’s a good start.”
Mcllroy had brilliantly capped the day at the fourth hole of his round, the par-5 13th, where he hit a 5-iron just short and then chipped-in for his ‘3’.
“I hit one of the best 5-irons I hit all day at 13 and so did Collin (Morikawa) and both hit the same thing. I went up to him and said both deserved to be better than that but then I got rewarded with a nice little chip,” he said.
“I hit 3-wood off the tee on three of the par 5s. I can’t even hit the driver because of doglegs and how tight it gets here when you sort of hit it into the distance. Like I was saying last week, I am trying to just put it in the fairway and give myself a chance to hit the greens in two and play the par 5s the way I shoot.”
And when asked what he had learned on day two of this second straight Rolex Series event, he responded saying: “To just keep doing what I’m doing. Today was a good valuation of what I worked on on the range today and keep going in that direction.”
It was also a good scoring three-ball for the two days with McIlroy at seven-under, Bernd Wiesberger (68) on five-under, and European No. 1 Collin Morikawa though a par at the last, following a poor chip shot from the front of the green, saw him throw his ball into the water, in a round of 73 to drop to three-under.
“Bernd played well today and Collin didn’t quite have his best stuff but it was nice,” said McIlroy. “Three guys with a similar kind of momentum. Bernd and I fed off each other on that back nine.”
In this year’s 34th hosting of the event, there has only been one triple champion and that was Ernie Els in 1993, 2002, and ’05.
Padraig Harrington posted a pair of 70s to be sharing 17th place on four-under-par with fellow Open Champion Shane Lowry struggling in signing for a two-over-par 74 to make the cut right on the one-over mark.
And Jonathan Caldwell struggled with a right shoulder injury as evident in a disappointing score of 81 that commenced with an opening holed birdie but ended with a pair of double-bogeys and then three successive bogeys for his eight-over total.
- Full scoring HERE