Rory McIlroy and Patrick Reed in title hunt at delayed Dubai Desert Classic
- Teegate rivals both eight under par after two rounds
- Thomas Pieters tied for the lead at 10 under
An eagerly anticipated Dubai Desert Classic draw failed to deliver the goods. With Rory McIlroy and Patrick Reed sitting eight under par after two rounds, the tantalising prospect of the stars of Teegate playing together on Sunday existed. Unfortunately the mechanics of such situations kicked in.
Cue audible sighs. McIlroy will have Bernd Wiesberger and Dan Bradbury for company. The trio ahead includes Reed, Matt Wallace and Julien Brun. Rules and regulations cannot be disregarded but this felt a terrible pity.
Not that McIlroy and Reed seemed at all interested in the continuation of drama. They sit only two from the halfway lead claimed by Thomas Pieters, Richard Bland and the American amateur Michael Thorbjornsen. “I focus on myself when I’m out there,” said McIlroy.
“I need to sort my game out. That’s how I think I need to go to the range. I need to sort everything out. I need to straighten up my tee shots and feel like I have a chance going into the next two days.”
An eagle at the par five 13th was the clear high point of a McIlroy second round which stuttered along before closing with 70 shots. The four-time major champion was far less accurate from the tee than he would have liked. So his post-round training session was understandable.
“A couple of holes glossed over everything else,” McIlroy added. “I did not touch a club for four weeks so I am still getting back into things. I’m managing my game well, I’m scoring well and I’m playing golf well. I’m not hitting the ball too well but I’m managing my game so that’s a consolation. I wish I didn’t have to manage it quite as much and give myself a few more opportunities.”
Reed’s 70 included several missed opportunities on the greens but he, too, headed straight for the range. Reed shrugged off the notion of a joust with McIlroy, the individual he tossed a tee at after being ignored at the Emirates Club on Monday. “We are just two golfers going out with the goal of trying to win a golf tournament,” said Reed.
Another third-round grouping in this weather-affected event will at least turn heads. Henrik Stenson, who was effectively sacked from the European Ryder Cup captaincy after joining LIV Golf, will be alongside Luke Donald, the man who replaced him. Tyrrell Hatton, who should be part of Europe’s team against the United States in Rome later this year, completes the trio.
Pieters claimed his driving has been “poor” after a second 67 in as many rounds. The Belgian missed the cut during his tournament defence in Abu Dhabi last week. “Putting has really bailed me out,” Pieters said. “I can definitely see them rolling in from 15ft which is a nice feeling. But I’ve got to get a bit more stress-free off the tee.”
Bland lost in a playoff to Viktor Hovland in Dubai a year ago. The intervening period has seen the Englishman switch to the controversial LIV circuit, meaning victory this time around would cause a few uncomfortable shuffles among the DP World Tour’s hierarchy. Not that Bland seems bothered.
“I think everybody understands my position at the age that I’m at and the opportunity put in front of me,” said the 49-year-old, who like Pieters has posted back-to-back rounds of 67. “I don’t think anyone in that position would have turned it down. I think everybody would have taken it and I’m glad I did.”
The burning issue, of course, is whether Bland and his chums should be allowed to have their LIV cake and eat it on this circuit; a matter that will be decided by a sporting arbitration panel early next month.
Adri Arnaus, Connor Syme and Marcus Kinhult sit at minus nine. Ian Poulter is in the group which has tied the aggregate of Reed and McIlroy. Those to surprisingly miss the cut included Adrian Meronk and Shane Lowry. A quadruple bogey seven at the 7th did for the Irishman. Pádraig Harrington improved by 16 shots on his first round of 81 but still failed to survive for the closing 36 holes.
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