John Catlin, Sam Horsfield and Shane Lowry will share the lead heading into the weekend at the season-ending DP World Tour Championship after a dramatic second round at Jumeirah Golf Estates.
The Northern Irishman double-bogeyed the last after finding the water to record a 70 and sit a shot off the lead alongside Swede Alexander Björk, who carded a 65.
Race to Dubai Rankings leader Collin Morikawa was on course to become the first American to lift the Harry Vardon Trophy at eight under, where he had fellow two-time Major Champion Martin Kaymer for company.
Lowry is looking for a second Rolex Series triumph in the UAE after his win at the 2019 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship and was bogey-free over a course where he finished second in 2017 and has two further top 10s.
“It’s two more days left and then the end of a long year-and-a-half,” said Lowry, who had to wait an extra 12 months to defend his 2019 Open Championship title due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I’m looking forward to giving everything and leaving it on the course this weekend and hopefully I’m there near the top of the leaderboard come Sunday afternoon.
“I feel like my game is in good shape and I feel like I know my way around this place and I know how to play here. I’m happy to be top of the leaderboard, late tee time tomorrow and I’m looking forward to the weekend.”
Example 41305 that @ShaneLowryGolf's short game is one of the best in the world 😍
— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) November 19, 2021
Catlin has won three European Tour events in the last 15 months but believes a Rolex Series victory at the season finale would be “truly special”.
“It’s definitely nice to be able to look yourself in the mirror and say: I’ve been here before and I can do it again,” he said. “That kind of kept me steady here on the back nine.
“We’ve got two more rounds to go and hopefully I can stay confident and keep hitting good golf shots.”
Horsfield is also looking for a first Rolex Series victory to add to his two European Tour wins and is feeling comfortable in his third appearance in this event.
“I definitely don’t feel like I’m out of place or do not belong here and obviously I feel like my game is really good,” he said. “Looking forward to the weekend.
“I’ve definitely given myself a lot of opportunities the last two days and I just want to continue to do the same thing.”
McIlroy was briefly caught in the morning but picked up where he had left off once his round got underway, playing a wonderful flop shot to set up a birdie on the par-five second and holing from nine feet at the third to lead by two.
A two-putt gain at the par-five seventh had him in double figures but he soon had company as Lowry and Horsfield were on the charge.
Lowry hit a smart approach into the first and holed a huge 43 footer on the fifth but made his big move after the turn.
Another nice approach to the 11th was followed by a 25-foot putt on the 13th before he holed an exquisite shot from off the green for an eagle on the par-five next and made a 10-footer on the 15th.
Horsfield had taken advantage of the second but then made five birdies in a row from the sixth, getting his run going with a long putt and adding a two-putt birdie on the seventh before sandwiching a 25 footer on the ninth with approaches to 11 feet at the tenth and 11th.
McIlroy three-putted the 10th but hit back with a chip-in at the 11th and found himself in a four-way tie as Catlin made a big move.
The 31-year-old hit a beautiful approach into the first and made the most of the second and, while he dropped a shot on the next, a birdie on the fifth saw him turn in 34.
A trio of lengthy putts from the 10th then brought a hat-trick of birdies and he two-putted the 14th before putting an approach to six feet on the next.
Horsfield holed a 20 footer from the fringe at the 14th to lead on his own but found a nasty spot on the 16th for a first bogey of the day and we were back into a four-way tie.
A three-putt on the 17th saw Horsfield drop another shot and a booming 369-yard drive on the 16th helped McIlroy set up a birdie and get his nose back in front.
A smart shot after a layup on the last helped Horsfield back into a share of second and that was soon a share of top spot after McIlroy’s double bogey.
Bjork turned in 35 with two birdies and a bogey but then produced some dialled in iron play on the back nine to birdie the 11th, 13th, 15th and 17th and made a big move up the leaderboard.
Morikawa carded a second consecutive 68 to sit at least three shots ahead of all his challengers to be European Number One, while German 2010 Race to Dubai Champion Kaymer also carded a 68.
Spaniard Sergio Garcia, Dane Joachim B Hansen and Scot Robert MacIntyre completed the top 10 at seven under.
Back-to-back rounds of 69 and @BurmyGolf is just 5 shots back of the leader ⛳️ He chats to @golfshan17 about what he’ll be working on to climb the leaderboard this weekend 🏆#CompleatGolfer #DPWTC #RolexSeries @Sunshine_Tour @EuropeanTour pic.twitter.com/Ap7dZsQiVB
— Compleat Golfer (@CompleatGolfer) November 19, 2021
– Report from europeantour.com