McIlroy leads in Dubai; Woods, Garcia lurking

Tiger Woods follows his ball on the 14th hole during the second round of Dubai Desert Classic at the Emirates Golf Club in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Tiger Woods follows his ball on the 14th hole during the second round of Dubai Desert Classic at the Emirates Golf Club in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Strange happenings here in the desert.

Very strange, indeed.

In the span of 24 hours, Tiger Woods went from looking like he’d forgotten how to play the game to looking like he’d never been away.

Sergio Garcia, missing in action for most of the past two years, seems to be imitating the player who threatened to challenge Tiger Woods for major glory 12 years ago in the 1999 PGA Championship at Medinah.

Then there’s 36-hole leader Rory McIlroy. The 21-year-old is battling all his natural instincts to try to land his second Dubai Desert Classic, and only his second European Tour victory

Woods showed he can be Dr. Jekyll to Round 1’s Mr. Hyde with a bogey-free, 6-under 66 to move to 7 under and in contention for his third win in Dubai.

Unlike the previous day, when he looked uncomfortable against the steady play of Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer, the two men ahead of him on the Official World Golf Ranking, Woods looked like he was back as the game’s best. With little wind and perfect greens, the former World No. 1 hardly put a foot wrong.

“I hit the ball better today,” Woods said. “I felt like I had more control over my shots. More control over my trajectory.

“I cleaned up the round. I didn’t make as many mistakes as I did yesterday. I thought it was important today to post a number and get up there.”

Woods gave a swing clinic immediately after his opening round, part of the contract to justify his reported $3 million appearance fee. That demonstration turned out to be a godsend.

“We worked out a few things last night that I didn’t like. More than anything it’s the fix that I did on the range during the clinic that helped. I found probably four or five things we needed to work on and we worked on them.

“I actually overdid some of the things we were trying to do. That was good: the fact that I was able to overdo it. So now we can pull back a little bit and get it dialed in.”

With South Africa’s Thomas Aiken moving to 10 under par early in the second round, Woods needed a good score to stop from getting left behind.

“I didn’t have a choice. I felt the golf course was as benign as we are going to see it for the rest of the week. I had to play myself back into the tournament.”

Woods was right. It didn’t take McIlroy and Garcia long to match Aiken’s score, and for the Northern Irishman to better it. McIlroy, winner here in 2009, added a 68 to his opening 67 to move to 11 under.

McIlroy is hoping adding a little maturity to his locker room will help him start racking up the wins that are so conspicuous by their absence from his record. His only European Tour win remains that win here in Dubai two years ago.

In the past he would have gone after every flag, gone for every par 5 and bombed away with driver. This season his key word is “patience.” That quality was obvious after he began his round with a bogey at the second hole.

“Maybe this time last year I might not have been able to dig in and shoot 68,” McIlroy said. “After the start that I had I could have let it be a 72 or 73. But to stay patient and stay focused out there and pick off the birdies when I could to shoot 68 was a very satisfying round.

“I feel like this approach is going to work for me.”

Garcia hasn’t been in contention to win a tournament since getting to the semifinals of last year’s WGC–Accenture Match Play Championship. He did finish ninth in Qatar last week. He puts his mini-revival down to a new claw putting grip that has him performing better on the greens. It helped him to a 5-under-par 67, even if his cantankerous demeanor in the interview room later suggested he’d just shot 77.

Funny old game.

Makes you wonder what the $2.5 million Omega Dubai Desert Classic will conjure up next.

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