sport

McIlroy recovers to stay ahead

Rory McIlroy recovered from a shaky start to remain top of the leaderboard midway through his second round of the Dubai Desert Classic.

McIlroy was back to his brilliant best as he posted a sparkling nine-under-par 63 on Thursday, the former world number one carding seven birdies and an eagle at Emirates Golf Club, the scene of his first European Tour title in 2009.

And although he was unable to reproduce that sort of form in round two, he bounced back from dropping his first shot of the week to keep just ahead of the chasing pack.

McIlroy pulled his tee shot on the first hole and was unable to keep his approach from running through the green, from where he three-putted from the fringe from long range.

Perhaps frustrated by that start, McIlroy opted to hit a driver on the short par-four second after playing partners Stephen Gallacher and Tiger Woods laid up with long-irons, but this time carved it well right into the trees and was lucky to have a clear pitch onto the green.

After making par there - Gallacher holed from 10ft for birdie - another bad drive followed on the par-five third and McIlroy was again fortunate his ball rolled down a slope in the waste area to give him a shot towards the green.

The world number six found a greenside bunker with his approach but then played a superb long bunker shot to four feet and holed the birdie putt to get back to nine under par.

That seemed to steady the ship and McIlroy picked up further shots on the fifth and seventh before scrambling par on the eighth after another wayward drive, a par on the ninth completing a front nine of 33.

At 11 under par he led by one from American Brooks Koepka, who had covered the back nine in 33 and then rolled in a hat-trick of birdies from the first to be seven under for his round.

Ireland's Damien McGrane and England's Danny Willett had set the clubhouse target on eight under after rounds of 70 and 65 respectively, with European number one Henrik Stenson among those another shot back on seven under, the Swede returning a flawless 67 as he continued his recovery from being three over par after five holes on Thursday.

"I think there is still a little way to go but today was the best I have putted for a long, long time," said Stenson, who became the first man to win the FedEx Cup and Race to Dubai in the same season in 2013.

"I was threatening on every putt and kept the score together with no bogeys which is always a good sign."

Stenson added on Sky Sports: "I did what I could and five under is never a bad score round here. Hopefully I won't be too far behind at the end of the day."

Woods had matched McIlroy's birdie from sand on the third but then three-putted the sixth from long range and dropped another shot on the ninth to drop back to three under par.

Defending champion Gallacher had also bogeyed the ninth to lie seven under.

McIlroy doubled his lead with a birdie on the 10th thanks to an excellent pitch, but then three-putted the next par-five, the 13th, for a bogey after a

lapse of concentration saw him miss from inside two feet.

At 11 under he again led by just one from Koepka, a three-time winner on the Challenge Tour last season, who had completed a flawless 65.

Woods then followed McIlroy's three-putt with one of his own on the 14th to drop back to three under, just one shot inside the projected cut mark.

Another poor drive left McIlroy pitching out of the sandy waste area to the right of the 16th fairway and led to a third bogey of the day, but he at least

claimed the halfway lead with a birdie on the last.

That completed a somewhat erratic round of 70 and left the two-time major winner 11 under par, one ahead of Koepka.