Rory McIlroy remained atop the leaderboard at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic on Friday, firing a 2-under 70 to hold a one-shot lead over Brooks Koepka after 36 holes.
McIlroy played alongside Tiger Woods again on Friday, but the duo provided far less fireworks, with McIlroy having only five birdies on the day and Woods picking up two.
Woods would fire a 1-over 73 to likely fall out of realistic contention.
Here are 5 Things to take away from Round 2 in Dubai:
• • •
1. JUST ENOUGH: Rory McIlroy scuffled from this opening hole, looking less fluid off the tee and scrambling more often to just make par.
But the Northern Irishman did just enough on Friday in Dubai to retain his lead, using an 18th-hole birdie to fire a 2-under 70 and take a one-shot lead into the third round.
“It was nice to birdie the last and at least give myself a one-shot lead going into tomorrow,” McIlroy said. “I will just go back tonight and sort of regroup and realize I am still leading the tournament. I was more frustrated on the back nine, as the back nine is where you want to build your score after playing the harder front nine.”
McIlroy missed his first three fairways, including a costly one at No. 1 that led to a round-opening bogey. He’d add three birdies on his front nine to rite the ship, and then move three strokes ahead of the field with a birdie at the par-5 10th. But a surprisingly sloppy bogey at the par-5 13th – he missed a 2-footer to clean up a par – and then another on the short par-4 16th brought him back to the field.
McIlroy hasn’t won on the European Tour since November of 2012, although he has shown signs of his brilliant 2012 self the past few weeks, including a T-2 finish a the Abu Dhabi Championship earlier this month.
• • •
2. SHARP SEMINOLE: Brooks Koepka bleeds garnet and gold, with the former Florida State All-American able to celebrate a national championship in football just mere weeks ago.
With the way Koepka played on Friday, the school might also be celebrating a European Tour title in the near future as well.
Koepka started his round hot with a birdie at the par-5 10th and he never let his foot off the gas, posting birdies on Nos. 12, 13, 17 to go out in 4-under 33, only to add birdies on Nos. 1-3 to fire a 7-under 65 and work his way into Saturday’s final pairing.
Koepka is a blossoming star in Europe, picking up four Challenge Tour victories in 2012-13, allowing the 23-year-old from Florida to earn his full European Tour card.
He led at the PGA Tour’s Frys.com Open in the final round, only to falter late.
“Winning is winning,” said Koepka, who has four Challenge Tour wins. “I’ve been able to do it on the Challenge Tour, so hopefully I can get it done with week.”
He struggled to start this season, with a T-37 at the Qatar Masters and a missed cut at the Abu Dhabi Championship.
Koepka will be returning to the U.S. to play the Honda Classic on a sponsor exemption.
• • •
3. SHADES OF TORREY: Tiger Woods couldn’t buy a putt on Friday in Dubai, failing to make anything outside of 10 feet in recording a 1-over 73 – a career-worst in the second round of his seven appearances at the Dubai Desert Classic.
He needed 31 putts on the round, while hitting 12 of 18 greens in regulation. Again his problems started off the tee, finding only 4 of 14 fairways.
Woods started well, picking up a birdie at the par-5 3rd to move within three shots of the lead, but bogeys on Nos. 7 and 9 squashed that momentum. Woods is 1 over on the week on the opening nine holes, picking up nine pars on Thursday during a 4-under 68.
Woods did nearly make an ace at the par-3 11th, leading to an easy birdie, but gave that away with a bogey at No. 15.
“I was on so many parts of the golf course today that I got to meet so many people, signed so many autographs out there, and gave a lot of balls away,” said Woods during a clinic for junior golfers after the round.
“But seriously, I was just hitting it sideways.”
Further bad news for Woods? Of his last four weekend rounds at the Dubai Desert Classic, he has shot 72 or worse in three of four rounds.
• • •
4. SO LONG, FELLAS: A pair of Americans won’t be sticking around for the weekend, with John Daly and Mark O’Meara both finished at even par for the tournament.
Daly picked up four bogeys over his final six holes to fall outside the cut line.
Other big names that won’t be around for the final 36 holes? Try Ernie Els, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Javier Ballesteros, Matteo Manassero and Branden Grace.
• • •
5. SHORT SHOTS: Fred Couples was one of three Americans to make the cut this week, with Couples also sitting at 3 under after a closing birdie gave him a 1-under 71 on Friday. . . . The Molinari brothers – Edoardo and Francesco – are a combined 13 under for the tournament, with Edoardo at 7 under and Francesco a shot back at 6 under. . . . Defending FedEx Cup and Race to Dubai champ Henrik Stenson fired a 5-under 67 to vault into contention, sitting four shots back of McIlroy.
– The Associated Press contributed to this report