DUBAI, Jan 27 — Rory McIlroy put himself firmly in the frame for another shot at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic title, moving to within one stroke of third-round leader Haotong Li after a marathon day which saw half of the field play 25 holes at Emirates Golf Club on Saturday.
The Northern Irishman, a two-time winner in Dubai, shot a second-round 64, playing the remaining seven holes of a fog-delayed second round in five under in the morning to lead by two and then added a 68 to get to 19-under as China’s Li shot a bogey-free 64 to sit atop the leaderboard.
Frenchman Alexander Levy, who aced the par-3, fourth, en route to a 65, and Haydn Porteous of South Africa shared third on 17-under, one clear of Andy Sullivan, who carded the day’s low score of a 63, and two of England’s David Horsey, keeping the leaderboard bunched up.
On moving day, as the terminology goes, former Omega Dubai Desert Classic champion Rafa Cabrera Bello also charged up the leaderboard after returning a flawless 64 to move into an eight-way tie for seventh at 14-under, setting up an intriguing Sunday.
The Volcano Pat Parez, starting from the 10th tee, stormed out of the gate in style, picking seven shots, including an eagle on the 10th, but his momentum faltered coming home as two bogeys saw him eventually finish the day tied for 27th on 11-under.
The winner of the China Open in 2016, Li is relishing the opportunity of playing in the final group on Sunday. “I’ve never been this position before so it’s going to be fun out there tomorrow,” he said.
“Hopefully, I can do my best out there and have some low scores. I just want to play by myself and play my game. I thought if I just stayed patient, I’ll play good. So I just stayed patient all day.”
Four-time major winner McIlroy, who is chasing the great Ernie Els’s record of three wins in Dubai, said: “It would be great to put my name on the trophy again. This is one of my favourite tournaments of the year, a place I’ve always done well at, some good memories.
“I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “I showed that even whenever I didn’t have my best stuff today I was able to battle around and get in at a decent score. So hopefully I have a bit of a better game tomorrow,” said McIlroy, who eagled the tenth before picking up further shots on the 13th, 16th and 18th to narrow the gap on leader.
“You know, hopefully, and maybe that experience of winning a couple of times around here, you know, being in contention quite a lot, will help me tomorrow,” he said.
Meanwhile, leading MENA Tour amateur Todd Clements made his presence felt, going six-under for the tournament on his debut in the longest-running European Tour event in the region as a total of 70 players made the cut at five under, the lowest in the history of this event by two shots.