DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Chip-ins from Rory McIlroy and Tyrrell Hatton fueled their surge into contention at the Dubai Desert Classic on Friday.
The player they’ll try to catch over the weekend is Justin Harding, whose own spectacular shot in the second round came from much further out.
McIlroy and Hatton took advantage of beautiful conditions at Emirates Golf Club to shoot 6-under 66s — tied for the lowest scores of the day — and climb onto the leaderboard in the $8 million Rolex Series event on the European tour.
A chip-in eagle at No. 13 and an 18-foot putt for birdie at the last were the highlights of a bogey-free round for the No. 8-ranked McIlroy, who moved into a tie for fifth on 7 under overall.
“Could have been way lower,” the four-time major winner said. “I certainly hit the ball as good as I have in a long time.”
Hatton sent in a chip from 34 yards at No. 14 that landed at the front of the green, took one more bounce and skipped straight into the cup for the last of his seven birdies.
“I was actually thinking about duffing it into the bunker while I was over the ball,” said Hatton, who was alone in second place on 9 under.
“It probably would have gone at least 10, 15 feet past, so we probably saved a couple of shots there but need a little bit of luck sometimes.”
Harding was the only player ahead of Hatton after a day when he played 19 holes and birdied No. 18 twice.
The No. 122-ranked South African returned to the Majlis course early to complete his first round with a tap-in birdie at the last to join JB Hansen in a tie for the lead on 7-under 65. Harding then shot a 68 to move ahead outright on 11 under overall, finishing Friday with a two-stroke lead.
He also birdied the last, from 22 feet, and burst out laughing after holing out for eagle from 183 yards from the middle of the fairway at the par-4 sixth hole.
“The cameraman actually said, ‘I like it,’” Harding said. “I thought he was joking. It was just a good swing.”
Harding has two wins on the European tour, in Qatar in 2019 and Kenya last year.
“Game seems to be close,” he said. “Just a matter if I can control the putter and make some putts.”
Erik van Rooyen (67) and Fabrizio Zanotti (70) were tied for third place, three shots off the lead.
Hansen was one of the few players high up the leaderboard to fail to shoot under par on a calm day in Dubai that led to a bunch of low scores. The Dane shot even-par 72 and was tied with McIlroy, Viktor Hovland (69), Richard Bland (68) and Adrian Meronk (68) in fifth.
Paul Casey, the defending champion, was in a group of five English players in a tie for 10th a further stroke back after a 68.
Collin Morikawa, the world No. 2, will also be playing the weekend but still has to work to do to find his best game. A round of 73 ended with the 24-year-old Californian making par at No. 18 after a tame birdie putt — and flinging his ball into the water.
Morikawa was 3 under overall, eight strokes off the lead.
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