A guilty conscience paid dividends for Martin Kaymer as the three-time winner surged into the halfway lead in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
Former world number one Kaymer carded a second consecutive 66 to reach 12 under par, a shot ahead of Ryder Cup team-mate Rafa Cabrera Bello.
The two-time major winner lifted the trophy in Abu Dhabi in 2008, 2010 and 2011, but amazingly blew a 10-shot lead in the final round in 2015 and remains without a victory since the 2014 US Open.
That meant Kaymer reverted to his winter practice regime in America for the first time in three years, a decision which helped produce an eagle on the par-five eighth and six birdies in a back nine of 31.
“I’m not quite 100 per cent happy yet with the way I played, but we always have those little things if you’re a perfectionist,” Kaymer told Sky Sports. “But overall it paid off fairly well so far.
“I felt like I played a little better than yesterday, because it was a bit more difficult with the wind. I struck the ball with a little better quality but made a few long putts, the same as yesterday.
“I don’t try to push at all, I just try to enjoy playing my favourite golf course.
“Once in a while a long putt drops in and you get some momentum and then maybe you can make another three or four birdies coming in like it happened today. Pushing, I have bad experience with pushing.”
Cabrera Bello had held the lead for much of the day after adding a 66 to his opening 67, the 32-year-old Spaniard responding to his only bogey of the day on the sixth – his 15th hole – with birdies on the seventh, eighth and ninth.
Despite failing to convert numerous winning positions since the last of his two European Tour victories in Dubai in 2012, Cabrera Bello said: “I’m in no hurry, I know it will come, I just obviously wish it to come sooner than later.
“Sometimes a good first round puts a little bit of pressure on but I just went out there and did my tasks, try to focus on one shot at a time and it worked well today.”
Ireland’s Paul Dunne, England’s Tommy Fleetwood and Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat were two shots off the pace on 10 under, with overnight leader Henrik Stenson among those a shot further back after a 71.
Dunne, who was still an amateur when he shared the 54-hole lead in the 2015 Open, had five birdies and an eagle in a 66 in pursuit of his first European Tour title.
The 24-year-old said: “It would be great. It’s nice to be up there again, that’s why we practice and what we prepare for.
“It’s going to be nice to be in one of the later groups tomorrow and hopefully I can play like I did the last couple of days over the weekend and I think I’ll have a good chance.”
England’s Lee Westwood ended the day five shots off the pace after three-putting his final hole in a 69, but the 43-year-old was still pleased with his performance.
“It’s really good,” Westwood said. “I generally don’t start off seasons too quickly so to be right in contention the first tournament of the year, having not played a lot of golf, I’m delighted.
“I have finished second here but it was a long time ago (2008). Recent history has not been great, I won’t know the weekend flags for tomorrow because I haven’t played many weekends here.”
Westwood, who has girlfriend Helen Storey on his bag after the father of regular caddie Billy Foster died, added on Sky Sports: “I’m managing my game well and I’m pretty focused. I’m looking forward to the weekend and getting into contention.”
Defending champion Rickie Fowler and US Open champion Dustin Johnson safely made the cut on four under after matching rounds of 68, but Masters champion Danny Willett had just four players below him after a 76 which included a quadruple-bogey nine on the 10th.