RORY McILROY recovered from a shaky start to continue to set the pace during the second round of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic today.
But another Irishman, Damien McGrane, was also featuring prominently near the top of the leaderboard.
The Meathman, along with England's Danny Willett, had set the clubhouse target on eight under after rounds of 70 and 65 respectively, with European number one Henrik Stenson among those another shot back on seven under, the Swede returning a flawless 67 as he continued his recovery from being three over par after five holes yesterday.
"I think there is still a little way to go, but today was the best I have putted for a long, long time," said Stenson, who became the first man to win the FedEx Cup and Race to Dubai in the same season in 2013.
"I was threatening on every putt and kept the score together with no bogeys which is always a good sign."
Stenson added: "I did what I could and five under is never a bad score round here. Hopefully I won't be too far behind at the end of the day."
McIlroy was back to his brilliant best as he posted a sparkling nine-under-par 63 yesterday, the former world number one carding seven birdies and an eagle at Emirates Golf Club, the scene of his first European Tour title in 2009.
And although he was unable to reproduce that sort of form in round two, he bounced back from dropping his first shot of the week to keep just ahead of the chasing pack, with four birdies in his first 11 holes today.
McIlroy pulled his tee shot on the first hole and was unable to keep his approach from running through the green, from where he three-putted from the fringe from long range.
Perhaps frustrated by that start, McIlroy opted to hit a driver on the short par-four second after playing partners Stephen Gallacher and Tiger Woods laid up with long-irons, but this time carved it well right into the trees and was lucky to have a clear pitch onto the green.
After making par there – Gallacher holed from 10ft for birdie – another bad drive followed on the par-five third and McIlroy was again fortunate his ball rolled down a slope in the waste area to give him a shot towards the green. The world number six found a greenside bunker with his approach, but then played a superb long bunker shot to four feet and holed the birdie putt to get back to nine under par.
That seemed to steady the ship and McIlroy picked up further shots on the fifth and seventh before scrambling par on the eighth after another wayward drive, a par on the ninth completing a front nine of 33.
At 11 under par, he led by one from American Brooks Koepka, who had covered the back nine in 33 and then rolled in a hat-trick of birdies from the first to be seven under for his round.
McIlroy's score yesterday equalled his lowest opening round on the European Tour, although he failed to win any of the previous three events when he made such a start, most famously following a 63 in the 2010 Open Championship at St Andrews with an 80.
Tiger Woods began his 2014 campaign in the Farmers Insurance Open last week, but carded a third round of 79 at Torrey Pines – a venue where he has won eight times – to miss the unusual 54-hole cut.
The world number one insisted his game was "just a fraction off" and demonstrated that with a number of wayward drives, but made birdies on the three par fives on the back nine and picked up another shot on the 15th to reach the turn in four under.
"He's a true pro, he knows there are no pictures on a scorecard," McIlroy said of his Nike stablemate. "He was hitting it a lot better at the end of the round, but to shoot the score he did on our front nine was a good effort."