Willett grounded as he chases McIlroy

Danny Willett of England plays a shot on the 10th hole during the round two of the Dubai Desert Classic golf tournament in Dubai. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)
Danny Willett of England plays a shot on the 10th hole during the round two of the Dubai Desert Classic golf tournament in Dubai. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)
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Danny Willett has opted against hurling himself out of an aeroplane for the sanctuary of another tournament leaderboard.

The 27-year-old from Sheffield, who is enjoying the form of his life, moved into contention at the Dubai Desert Classic with a 66 yesterday that put him on 11 under par, three behind leader and world No 1 Rory McIlroy.

This time last year, when he was outside the top 100, Willett did a sky-dive for charity above the Dubai skyline but chose to keep his feet firmly on the ground before his second tournament of 2015.

“It would have been a perfect day for it, but I’ve ticked it off the bucket list now,” said Willett, who will play alongside Graeme McDowell and Bernd Wiesberger in the penultimate group today.

“The more you think about it, the more you think what could go wrong, and also, did it affect my back last year? I’ll never know that, but I opted to give it a miss.”

He was five-under at the turn yesterday before a three-putt from close range on the eighth, his 17th, turned a birdie chance into a frustrating bogey, his first of the week.

“I played well, but eight left me with a sour taste in my mouth,” he said. “But it’s a good couple of days golf and a good position going into the weekend.”

Willett revealed he is also still feeding off the positive vibes of his second career win at the Nedbank Golf Challenge in South Africa before Christmas, a result that propelled him towards the top 50 in the world and into the field for April’s Masters.

“The feelings are still pretty good, I’m just trying to get a few more tournaments under my belt to try and stay sharp,” he said.

McIlroy is the man to catch, after the four-time major winner closed with three closing birdies in a bogey-free round of 64.

“I’m in a great position obviously, but there are so many people that are close to the lead and it’s so bunched up there,” said McIlroy, who leads Scotland’s Marc Warren by one.

“Even though I’m in the lead, there are so many people still in with a chance if they shoot a good third round. I’ve just got to go out there, stay aggressive, stick to the game plan and try to make as many birdies as I can.”

Lee Westwood is 11 under after a 68 but the Yorkshire trio of Richard Finch (74, 72), Simon Dyson (71, 78) and Matt Fitzpatrick (73, 76) all missed the cut.