Sport Golf

Wednesday 26 July 2017

Rory lights up desert with cool 65

William S Callahan

IF it pays to surround yourself with winners, then Rory McIlroy is in a pretty good place this weekend, on and off the golf course.

Sitting atop the leaderboard with Thomas Bjorn at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, McIlroy and the Danish veteran have a pack of world-class performers snapping at their heels.

With Martin Kaymer and Lee Westwood prominent among the pursuers, McIlroy (22) certainly will feel the thrill of the chase over the next two adrenalin-packed days.

McIlroy also has sporting inspiration in his personal life, confirming he's awed by the work ethic of his girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki, the Danish tennis ace.

"I feel I worked harder than ever this off-season, especially in the gym and hitting balls and just trying to become better," he said.

"But golfers definitely have it easier than tennis players."

AMBITION

"It's great to see at first-hand someone with so much drive and ambition and dedication to what they do," added McIlroy, who admits catching a glimpse of Wozniacki in the gallery at golf tournaments also gives him a boost.

"Yeah, I do notice her," he confirmed.

"I actually do alright when Caroline's there. She practised until 10.0 this morning, then turned up during my back nine. I saw her at the back of the fourth green and was three-under from there in.

"This is the third tournament she's watched me play and it's great to have her here. It's nice to sort of take your mind off everything by going out and doing different things, like being ball boy at her practice sessions."

McIlroy played sublimely throughout as he swept to 13-under with a bogey-free 65.

Bjorn (40) later joined him, continuing his recent rejuvenation with a 65 of his own. Like 2009 Desert Classic champion McIlroy, Bjorn won three times in 2011 and knows how to seal the deal in Dubai, where he famously overtook a rampant Tiger on Sunday in 2001, racking up a record 22-under total in the process.

Kaymer thrust himself back into contention on 11-under with a second-round 67, which featured his first hole-in-one.

It came at the 180-yard seventh, his 16th yesterday, courtesy of a sweet eight-iron.

"I've listened to others talk of the aces they've had and wondered what I was doing wrong, so it's great, at last, to be part of the hole-in-one club," he said.

Westwood forced his way into contention on 10-under with his second-round 65, despite missing several birdie chances.

If this bullish Englishman could putt consistently and with confidence, he really would be dangerous.

Shane Lowry dropped two shots in his opening four holes but recovered to post a 70, playing well enough to suggest he can build on his share of 17th on six-under.

Yet again, Damien McGrane pulled off a stunning recovery in the desert as he followed up Thursday's 75 with a phenomenal 65.

Yet the real eye-opener yesterday was popular Swede Henrik Stenson, who found sanctuary from recent appalling form with a wonderful 64.

Dubai Desert Classic,

Live, Sky Sports 1, 9.0

Irish Independent

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