Dan Brown in contention as Nicolai Hojgaard sets the pace in DP World Tour Championship
Ryder Cup winner Nicolai Hojgaard produced a brilliant finish to claim a two-shot lead at the halfway stage of the European circuit’s lucrative season-finale.
Hojgaard was two over par after four holes of his second round at Jumeirah Golf Estates, but birdied the fifth and seventh and then covered the back nine in just 30 shots to card a superb 66.
The 22-year-old Dane rounded off his day in style with an eagle from six feet on the par-five 18th to reach 11 under par, with Ryder Cup team-mates Tommy Fleetwood and Viktor Hovland part of a five-way tie for second on nine under.
Brown is three shots further back alongside Masters champion Jon Rahm among others after adding a five-under-par round to his opening 71 on Thursday to sit on six-under in a tie for 13th heading into the weekend.
It is rarified air indeed for the Romanby Golf Club member who sneaked into the 50-man field for the season finale as the 50th and last qualifier.
It is still a credible achievement to make it to Dubai in his rookie season on the DP World Tour, one highlighted by victory in a lower-profile event in Northern Ireland in August.
Another rookie, Wakefield’s Dan Bradbury, shot a second successive 70 to remain handily placed on four-under going into the weekend. Bradbury finished fifth last week at the Nedbank Challenge.
Sheffield’s Matt Fitzpatrick got his game back in shape with a 68 to climb back into red figures on two-under par but his hopes of winning this tournament for a third time are all but over given the amount of shots he has to make up and the calibre of players at the top of the leaderboard.
Fitzpatrick’s Ryder Cup team-mate Hojgaard, who finished second in the Nedbank Challenge on Sunday, said: “It’s a little like last week, I had a slow start in every round and then I know with every round there’s going to be a run of birdies at some point with where my game is so it’s about staying patient.
“I would like to play the front nine a little bit better at the weekend but I’m very satisfied with how I’ve played these two rounds.
“I trust my game at the moment. It’s been a little bit shaky at times this year but I feel like we’re on a good track at the moment and I have confidence in my shots, the selection of shots and the game plan we put in place every round.
“It would be pretty cool (to win). I feel like that’s the only thing I’ve missed this season but there’s two rounds to go and a lot of really good players in this field so I’m going to keep grinding as much as I can.”
Fleetwood and Hovland both matched Hojgaard’s 66, while Antoine Rozner, Thriston Lawrence and Jens Dantorp also share second place following rounds of 67, 64 and 67 respectively.
“No matter where you are in your career it’s great to be here and have a chance to win this tournament and it’s close to my heart now,” said Fleetwood, who lives in Dubai and has an academy at the venue.
“I always feel like it brings out great winners, great champions, so the ultimate goal is to be one of those and have your name on that trophy.”
Defending champion Rahm, who failed to break par for the first time in 17 rounds in the event on Thursday, bounced back with a 66 which included an eagle on the 18th but was marred by a three-putt bogey on the ninth, the Spanish Ryder Cup hero’s final hole of the day.
“It’s a really good round of golf,” said the Masters champion. “I took advantage of the easier conditions and did what I needed to early on. Five under through nine holes with that eagle on 18 is great and just too bad things cooled off a little bit.
“To three-putt the last just leaves a bit of a sour taste but perspective is a big thing and I told Adam [his caddie], if you look at the scorecard the way it’s intended to be read, starting on one, it was a great finish. I’m just going to remind myself of that.”
World No 2 Rory McIlroy could only add a 72 to his opening 71 to lie 10 shots off the pace.
“I got off to a decent start again, a couple under through nine and then just (hit) some loose shots coming in,” said McIlroy, who had already wrapped up his fifth Order of Merit title before a ball had been struck.
“I was trying to make some birdies on the back nine and get something going and I couldn’t. I was just stuck in neutral all day.
“There is a low one out there and obviously I’m going to need a low one to get myself back in the tournament.”