Rory Mcilroy made his move at the Dubai Desert Classic
Rory Mcilroy made his move at the Dubai Desert Classic Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Rory McIlroy left it late but made his move into contention at the Dubai Desert Classic on Friday as playing partner and world No. 2 Collin Morikawa struggled.

The Northern Irishman turned the tables on his American rival after Morikawa famously clawed back the advantage to win the DP World Tour Championship at Jumeirah Golf Estates in November.

This time around it was McIlroy who was smiling as he came of the 18th green amid long shadows and fading light. The four-time major winner struck an impressive 66 — including birdie on the last — and is in a tie for fifth, four strokes off the lead held by South Africa’s Justin Harding.

“It could have been way lower,” he said of his score. “I certainly hit the ball well enough for it to be lower. I missed a few opportunities, but with the way these new greens are, they get a bit chewed up in the afternoons and start to wiggle a little bit if there’s in the a lot of speed on them but they are pretty quick as well and you don’t want to be giving them too much of a run at the hole.

“So yeah, I certainly hit the ball as good as I’ve done in a long time, and it could have been a few better but 66 this afternoon is a good score and sets me up for a nice weekend.”

Morikawa followed up his opening 68 with a 73 to slip to three-under and a share of 25th.

Tyrrell Hatton sits second in the Dubai Desert Classic
Tyrrell Hatton sits second in the Dubai Desert Classic Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Tyrell Hatton, who finished sixth last week on Yas Links in his Abu Dhabi HSBC title defence, also surged up the leader board, coming off the 18th just behind McIlroy alongside Shane Lowry (+1) and Sergio Garcia (-3). The Englishman sits second, two strokes behind Harding thanks to a 66 on Friday. South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen and Paraguayan Fabrizio Zanotti are tied third on eight-under.

“I’m obviously happy with that,” Hatton said. “ I didn’t get off to a great start with a bogey on the first hole but I battled back from there and played a lot of good golf today and hope that can continue into the weekend and I am happy I’m continuing my good golf on from Abu Dhabi last week.”

Justin Harding in discussion with his caddie at the Dubai Desert Classic at Emirates Golf Club
Justin Harding in discussion with his caddie at the Dubai Desert Classic at Emirates Golf Club Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Unlike the late finishers, it was an early morning alarm call for Harding, but that rude awakening could not put the South African off his game as he romped into an early second-round lead at Emirates Golf Club.

Harding had to get up before 7am to complete his first round on Friday as bad light forced him off with one to play on Thursday evening.

After the quickest of turnarounds he was back out on the 10th at 8.40am to march to the top of the leader board on 11-under after shooting a 68 to follow Thursday’s 65 — he birdied the 18th as he competed his round on Friday morning — after a bit of clever course management.

“I chose not to tee off on the last night as there was quite a breeze blowing,” a smiling Harding told Gulf News after his round. “The whole game is getting closer, but it was good. I chose not to hit the tee shot last night as the wind was into us and I hit a poor tee shot into 16. So I said to my caddie: ‘Look, we are not going to finish the hole (the hooter had blown to end the action), so we may as well get some swings on the range in the morning and see what we can execute.’ I hit the fairway and got the birdie. I played solidly after the turnaround. But this course will bite you if you hit a bad one but it is fair if you are playing well.”

Harding is happy with his form so far this season and is enjoying his time on the Majlis Course. “I’ve played this golf course well over the years,” he said.” Had a good final round a couple years back and was in contention last year and played badly on the Sunday. It is just a matter if I can control the putter and make some putts, we are always going to be there and thereabouts, which is nice.”

Harding’s fellow South African Van Rooyen, was hitting shots as big as his now famous moustache.

“It takes more work than you think,” he said of his facial hair after shooting a 67. “I’ve got a pair of scissors, the brush, the whole works. I need an extra 10 minutes in the morning.

“I was very pleased with my round. It was very clean. It’s what we play for, to be in contention, especially in these Rolex events. I’m happy that the Dubai Desert Classic is one as well. Can’t wait for Sunday.”