Cabrera-Bello moves to top in Dubai Desert Classic
Rafael Cabrera-Bello of Spain plays a shot during the second round of the 2016 Dubai Desert Classic at the Emirates Golf Club on Friday.
Dubai - Day of contrasts for Els, defending champion McIlroy at Dubai Desert Classic
In the run-up to the 27th installment of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, most of the talk was about Rory McIlroy making a successful title defence and in the process, taking home a record-equaling third 'Teapot.'
The man who he is looking to equal here, Ernie Els, was mostly flying under the radar. By Friday though, Els had positioned himself well enough to launch a bid for a record-breaking fourth at the Majlis Course.
As the 'Major of the Middle East' enters its business end, the 46-year-old was tied second with two others, one shot behind sole leader Rafa Cabrera-Bello.
The Spanish ace Cabrera-Bello, winner here in 2012, shot another identical 67 totalling 10-under to move to the top at the fag end of the day. Els conjured a neat round of five-under 67 on the day for an overall nine-under 135 to vault him from tied sixth overnight to within striking distance.
Els had three birdies and an eagle in his round. Teeing off from the 10th, the South African birdied the 13th before finishing it off with an eagle on the par-five 18th. He then notched birdies on the third and fifth on his back nine.
And while Els enjoyed a great and a walk-in-the-park sort of morning, it was anything but for McIlroy. The World No.2, teeing off just past noon and with the course and the conditions undergoing a change, had a wretched start again which went from bad to worse.
The Northern Ulsterman, one of the favourites of the tournament, flirted with the cut was in danger of packing his bags early after 11 holes. But the 26-year-old effected damage control which sparked life into his title challenge. McIlroy is five shots off the pace but one still cannot count him out as he has wiped off bigger deficits before.
McIlroy had started with a bogey on the par-five 10th, on the opening day and began the second round in similar fashion. He bogeyed the first and then repeated it again on the fourth.
McIlroy pulled it back somehow with a birdie on the next hole but his game deserted him yet again as he suffered consecutive bogeys on the eighth and ninth.
His return journey too didn't start well as he bogeyed the 11th and that left McIlroy out of the projected cut. But he reassessed the situation and pulled his game together with a birdie on the 13th.
After which he reeled off three birdies on the trot from the 16th to the 18th which put him in the safe zone. Meanwhile, Cabrera-Bello, who finished tied second in the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters last week, had six birdies and one bogey in his round. The 31-year-old had birdies on the second and third before he bogeyed the fifth. He then had birdies on the seventh and ninth. Cabrera-Bello then birdied the 15th and 18th.
"Very satisfied," Cabrera-Bello said.
"It was hard out there with the wind. I wasn't as sharp with the long game, but still not bad. Giving myself lots of birdie chances, but not so close, but the putter was really hot today and that made up for it," he added.
England's James Allan created a bit of history, becoming the first MENA Golf Tour amateur to make the cut which fell at one-under. South African Thriston Lawrence, who won the Tour's 2015 Order of Merit, agonizingly missed out by just one shot despite reeling off an eagle on the 18th.
Meanwhile, Scotland's Stephen Gallacher, the only back-to-back winner of the Desert Classic in 2013 and 2014, missed the cut.