Saturday 1 November 2014

Stenson out of this world as McIlroy hints at return to form

Karl MacGinty in Dubai

Published 16/11/2013 | 01:00

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 15: Manchester United and England footballer Michael Carrick (R) and tennis star Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark watching Rory McIlroy during the second round of the 2013 DP World Tour Championship on the Earth Course at the Jumeirah Golf Estates on November 15, 2013 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

HENRIK STENSON has shown such world class on the Earth Course, he has turned the European Tour's Race to Dubai into The Cake Walk in the Desert.

So much so, PGA of America president Ted Bishop's "bizarre" revelation on Thursday that Royal Portrush would be his choice to host the first US PGA played outside the States remained a major talking point throughout the second day of the DP World Tour Championship.

Rory McIlroy at his pomp is among the very few capable of matching the powerful Swede Stenson this weekend, leading many to clutch at green shoots of recovery shown by the 24-year-old as he compiled a second-round 67.

McIlroy can't win the Race to Dubai but, if he's to retain the DP World Tour Championship title, the Holywood native, six behind Stenson after 36 holes, probably must shoot back-to-back rounds of 65 this weekend. It's a big ask at the end of a nightmare year.

Like Graeme McDowell, who lay two strokes further back on four-under after an encouraging 68 yesterday, McIlroy's best around here is 66, including on Saturday and Sunday last year.

Yet the Holywood man gave the massive galleries which followed him through the desert on the Muslim Sabbath several pertinent reminders of those halcyon days 12 months ago.

Once again, Caroline Wozniacki was prominent among the multitude. She clearly enjoyed the company of Lisa Carrick, wife of Manchester United and England midfielder Michael, who braved many of the 18 holes in a special surgical boot.

Carrick will be sidelined until after Christmas after a recent operation to repair Achilles tendon damage and McIlroy appreciated his support.

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"It was great to see Michael out there," he said. "We met a few weeks ago in Manchester. Obviously he's out of action for a while so he and his wife thought of taking a few days off. I saw him this morning before we went out and he told me the doctors said it was good for him to walk."

McIlroy turned on the magic when he followed a sweet birdie at the short 13th by holing an eight-foot putt for a facile eagle three at the next.

Though he dropped a shot out of the left greenside trap at the short 17th, McIlroy rolled in a three-footer for his fifth birdie of the day at the last to offer further evidence of revival.

If his graph continues its steady rise, two bogeys and a couple of chances he let go abegging yesterday underscored the difference between McIlroy and Stenson.

The latter was utterly majestic as he matched the low round of the tournament posted by Ross Fisher two hours earlier with a flawless 64 of his own.

This propelled Stenson to 12-under, equalling the 36-hole championship record on the Earth Course set by Alvaro Quiros in 2009.

Though just one clear of Spain's Alejandro Canizares at the top of the leaderboard, the ever-affable 37-year-old's closest rivals in the Race to Dubai, Justin Rose, McDowell and Ian Poulter, were left gasping.

England duo Rose (67) and Poulter (68) were five back on seven-under, while McDowell maintained his composure well after opening with bogey to show ever-increasing comfort on perplexing, heavily grained greens.

Yet one suspect's Stenson's Race to Dubai rivals are fighting for second in the Money List, while only the brave or the foolhardy would bet against him taking the victory he needs tomorrow to avoid becoming the first Order of Merit winner not to register a tournament win on the European Tour.

As for Bishop's suggestion that Royal Portrush might host the proposed first US PGA Championship outside the States, the club last night insisted there'd been absolutely no contact from the PGA of America.

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