Wednesday 24 May 2017

McIlroy relishing joust with Tiger

Bernie McGuire in Dubai

Rory McIlroy appreciates he has to tackle Tiger Woods head on some time in his career and suggests why not this weekend as he eyes a second Omega Dubai Desert Classic success in three years.

A timely final-hole birdie, after deciding to lay up short of the water guarding the green, gave McIlroy a round of 68 and a one-stroke lead at 11-under-par.

Woods and playing partners Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer were given a slow-play warning at the sixth hole that somehow seemed to inspire the American, who won the battle of the world's top three in carding a 66 to move to a share of fifth place at seven-under.

In between McIlroy and Woods is South African Thomas Aiken and a rejuvenated Sergio Garcia, with both players signing for their second straight 67 and move to 10-under.

Garcia, like McIlroy, is also looking to end a two-year European Tour winless drought since taking the 2009 HSBC Champions event in Shanghai.

England's Steve Webster (68) is in fourth spot at eight-under, with Woods being joined by Australia's Brett Rumford (68), Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Gonnet (69), Dane Anders Hansen (68) and Belfast's Michael Hoey (67).

Hoey delighted in birdying six of his closing eight holes but was left disappointed to learn he had missed out on a third-round tee time alongside Woods.

Two years ago, McIlroy went wire-to-wire to capture his first and only Race to Dubai title, and at this stage the only change in McIlroy's scoring is his 64 on day one in 2009 compared to a first-round 65 this year.

But the huge difference is McIlroy's maturity. He may have spent Thursday afternoon splashing about with his mates at the Wild Wadi water park, but the boyhood manner inside the ropes has given way to a single-minded attitude.

McIlroy was asked whether the score Woods posted earlier in the morning had affected the way he played in the afternoon.

"That's the first that I have thought about him (Woods)," said McIlroy. "It didn't make me play any differently, and while it's great to see him up there, and it's great for the tournament, I am ahead of him by four shots with 36 holes to go.

"I've never been in contention with Tiger up around the top of the leaderboard, so I don't know what will happen. I know that, sooner or later, I am going to face him on the last day, so why not this week on a course where I won wire-to-wire in 2009?

"But, really, I will just concentrate on myself and I don't mind who plays well over the weekend or who shoots what score, as long as I go out and shoot the numbers I want to."

Hoey will at least get a look at Woods as his tee-off alongside Gonnet is the match prior to Woods.

"I played alongside Phil Mickelson at the Singapore Open when he was world No 2," Hoey said. "I would have loved to be playing alongside Tiger even though it might be difficult.

Atmosphere

"But this week has a Major championship feel about it, with the world's top three competing along with the atmosphere and the crowds.

"Hopefully, if I can do well over the weekend it can lead to me playing in another Major."

Darren Clarke made the level-par cut with a 72 for a two-under-par tally while Damien McGrane (71) ended a run of two missed cuts to head to the third round at one-under.

Peter Lawrie (70) is at level par but Paul McGinley missed the cut in his second straight Dubai event after a prior unbroken run of 15 starts dating back to 1992.

Dubai Desert Classic,

Live, Sky Sports 1, 9.0am

Irish Independent

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