Dubai – Rory McIlroy's pace-setting opening round of nine-under 63 was proving to be a tough chase for the morning starters on the second day of the $2.5 million Dubai Desert Classic on Friday.
The 24-year-old Northern Irishman, enjoying a superb start to the 2014 season, enjoyed a two-stroke lead overnight and, with an early afternoon start, was able to sit back and see if he could be caught.
Englishman Danny Willett was the first to make a charge with six birdies down the back nine after starting his round at the 10th.
A bogey at the fifth was the only blemish on his card of 65, and he reached the halfway stage of the European Tour event at eight under.
Italian Ryder Cup player Edoardo Molinari, solo second overnight on 65, was next to challenge McIlroy and he even drew level with a birdie at the 10th, but he followed that with a bogey at the next hole.
Australian Scott Hend then fired three straight birdies from the second on his back nine to get to nine under and level with McIlroy, who was just teeing off at the first.
Irishman Damien McGrane also got to eight under after firing a second round of 70, but no-one was able to dislodge the world number six from the top of the leaderboard.
European number one Henrik Stenson though ominously moved up the leaderboard as he recovered from a horror start to Thursday's opening round when was three over after just five holes.
The big Swede had four bidies through 16 holes that took him to seven under for the tournament.
Three-time former winner Ernie Els was also in better nick, but at level par for the tournament with three holes to play, the South African was just outside the projected cut mark at that stage of the day.
There was an anxious wait ahead too for Javier, the son of the legendary Seve Ballesteros, as he got to one over through 11 holes.
Javier was playing in his first top-tier European Tour tournament, having accepted an invitation to represent his father, a former champion in Dubai, as part of the Desert Classic's 25th anniversary celebrations.
Pace-setter McIlroy set off on his second round just after midday in the company of world number one Tiger Woods and the defending champion from Scotland, Stephen Gallacher.
Woods, playing his second tournament of the year after failing to play all four rounds at Torrey Pines, was on 68 and Gallacher on 66. – Sapa-AFP