Pablo Larrazábal produced a remarkable fightback on the back nine to take a one-shot lead into the weekend at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters.
The Spaniard began the day two shots clear after Thursday’s 64, but found himself four strokes off the pace at the turn after a front-nine 40 which contained a double bogey, three bogeys and a solitary birdie.
The six-time DP World Tour winner did not let that affect him, though, as he bounced back with an eagle at the 10th before birdies at the 11th, 16th and 18th saw him sign for a 71 and grab the outright lead on nine under par.
He has a high-quality chasing pack breathing down his neck, with Adrian Meronk, Wilco Nienaber and Chase Hanna just one stroke behind him.
Although Marcus Kinhult’s 65 was the lowest round of the day, Larrazábal’s may well go down as the best because of his stunning comeback.
With early starter Meronk matching Larrazábal’s first-round total early in the day, the 38-year-old found himself two shots behind after he made back-to-back bogeys on the second and third.
After finding a fairway for the first time on Friday, Larrazábal opened his birdie account at the fourth courtesy of a delightful long putt.
He produced an excellent par save at the sixth after getting into tree trouble off the tee, but made another bogey at the eighth to slip back to six under.
And things went from bad to worse at the ninth, where he ran up a double-bogey after an errant tee-shot to fall four behind.
But instead of losing hope, Larrazábal battled back, holing from 16 feet for an eagle on the 10th before making a 23-foot birdie at the next.
Four straight pars followed before Larrazábal got his next birdie at the 16th, tapping in from close range to regain a share of the lead.
And he finally returned to the summit on his own with a bit of magic on the 18th, bravely finding the green in two before rolling his monster eagle putt to within tap-in range for a closing birdie.
Speaking about his tale of two nines, Larrazábal said: “It was a tough start. I didn’t expect the drive on the first to go so far right. I started par-bogey-bogey and that wasn’t in the plans for Friday.
“I went bogey-double bogey on eight and nine to shoot 40 on the front nine but I said to [caddie] Raul, come on, yesterday we shot six under on the back and we know that we like the back.
“We know that we’re playing good enough, we’re not playing to shoot 40, we’re playing much better than 40 on the front nine.
“It was one of those days where you have to keep working and believe in the way you’ve been playing the last month or so and to keep fighting. There are a lot of birdie chances on the back and I took a few.
“It is even harder mentally when you shoot 40 on the front nine and you’re two over after three. Mentally you have to recover, you have to believe in the shots you plan and the shots you hit.
“That’s what we did and it paid off. To shoot one under par after going four over, it proves to us that we are in a good mental spot. We are ready to make mistakes and to recover them.”
Meronk made five birdies and three bogeys in his 70, while Nienaber and Hanna carded no bogeys as they shot rounds of 68 and 66 respectively.
Romain Langasque was alone in fifth on seven under after his 71.
– Report from DP World Tour website