Danny Willett has revealed how an instinctive approach on the greens has helped him keep pace with two of the world’s hottest golfers in Dubai.
The 27-year-old from Sheffield, fresh from a fourth-place finish in Turkey last week and seeking a second win on the European Tour, heads into the weekend at the lucrative season-ending DP World Tour Championship just two shots off the lead.
He shares second place with his old Walker Cup team-mate and world’s-best Rory McIlroy, with the two trailing Henrik Stenson, last year’s winner and European No 1.
Willett, who is 26th on the Race to Dubai standings and 85th in the world, added a 67 to his opening 69 after starting with five birdies on the front nine.
The highlight of his round, and the shot that earned him a place alongside Stenson in the final pairing today, was an up and down for birdie from 250 yards on the par-five 18th, after he had hit his tee shot into the water.
But it was his nerveless display on the greens that characterised yet another strong performance from the Rotherham Golf Club member.
“I’ve putted well and on those mid-range 15-foot to 30-foot putts, I’m seeing the lines quite nicely,” he said.
“If you get in there too close you get a bit twisted by the grain and it’s a bit breezy so you doubt yourself.
“So when it’s the mid-range length you kind of trust your first instinct a little more and let it go, and I’ve holed quite a few.”
Asked what score he had to post to claim what would be a life-changing win over the weekend, Willett said: “I haven’t got a clue what score will win it.
“I’m just going to try and go as low as possible.”
Defending champion Stenson admitted he felt like he had “hit the wall” at the end of a long season, but still managed to claim the halfway lead.
Stenson, whose win at Jumeirah Golf Estates 12 months ago ensured he became the first man to win the Race to Dubai and FedEx Cup in the same year, added a second round of 66 to his opening 68 to finish 10 under par. “There’s still a lot of golf to play and I’m really happy with how I closed this round,” said Stenson, who was 25 under par in winning by six shots last year.
“Around the 12th hole I felt like I was running out of steam.
“It was difficult mentally from there on. I had to really focus hard and drag myself over the finish line.
“It’s hot and sticky and even though I’m drinking well and getting plenty of energy, I just felt like I hit the wall on 12. If it’s one or two holes left, you normally feel like, ‘okay, I can hang on’. But it was a bit of an uphill (struggle) from there.”
Playing his first tournament after a six-week lay-off, McIlroy could only add a scrappy 70 to his flawless opening 66, carding four birdies, two bogeys and a par on the seventh after a mis-hit second shot with a five wood which he described as “a fat, low, duck-hook runner that was not intentional”.
The world No 1 recovered from the shock of hitting that shot like a high handicapper and a bogey on the 12th with birdies on the 14th and 15th, only to three-putt the 16th and drive into the water on the last.
“I’m in a good position and there is a lot of golf left,” said McIlroy.
“I’ve definitely been in worse positions after two rounds and still won.
“It could have been worse but it probably could have been a little better. I definitely didn’t have it like I did yesterday. I had to dig in a little bit so hopefully that’s the bad one out of the way and I have 36 holes now to make some ground up on Henrik.
“Henrik’s very comfortable on this golf course obviously. I can’t let him get too far ahead. I have to get off to a fast start and try and put a bit of pressure on him.”
Rose had been four over par for his first six holes on Thursday and was still four over after 10, but played the remaining eight holes in five under and carried on where he left off with seven birdies and one bogey in a 66.
Shane Lowry’s hole-in-one on the 13th helped him recover to seven under after he was unable to carry the momentum over from Thursday’s 66. Scotland’s Richie Ramsay joins Willett and McIlroy on eight under.
Malton’s Simon Dyson added a 70 to his opening 73.