Dubai Desert Classic: Michael Thorbjornsen upstages big names to share the lead

McIlroy played well within himself to finish amongst an eight-strong group sitting two shots off the lead

By Leslie Wilson Jr

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American Michael Thorbjornsen during the second round at the Hero Dubai Desert Classic on Saturday. — Supplied photo
American Michael Thorbjornsen during the second round at the Hero Dubai Desert Classic on Saturday. — Supplied photo

Published: Sat 28 Jan 2023, 9:17 PM

For the second consecutive day at the DP World Tour’s Hero Dubai Desert Classic, a relatively unknown player upstaged some of the biggest names in golf – including the likes of World No1 Rory McIlroy.

If you thought Swedish amateur Ludvig Aberg looked the goods when he topped the leaderboard on Friday, it was the turn of American Michael Thorbjornsen to shake up the world order with a sizzling eight-under 64 to share the lead with Belgium’s Thomas Pieters and England’s Richard Bland.


As golf fans turned up in large numbers at the Emirates Golf Club with the hope of seeing McIlroy at his best, Thorbjornsen turned their eyes on him with some magical putting that allowed him to bank seven birdies and an eagle.

The 21-year-old amateur from Cleveland, Ohio, welcomed the sun back to the Majlis Course which had taken a battering from the rains over the past three days, by playing a classy round.


His only setback was a bogey on the first, from which he recovered and never looked back.

After two days of delayed starts due to the weather conditions, play commenced as scheduled on Saturday.

And when the sun set across the majestic Dubai Marina without even a single drop of rain falling on the pristine golf club, it left the tournament wide open with less than two shots separating the leading nine players.

One shot behind Thorbjornsen, whose biggest moment came when he was a member of America’s Junior Ryder Cup team in 2018, was Spain’s Adri Arnaus, Scotland’s Connor Syme, and Sweden’s Marcus Kinhult.

Meanwhile, McIlroy, looking for a record-equalling third Hero Dubai Desert Classic title, played well within himself to finish amongst an eight-strong group sitting two shots off the lead.

The Northern Irishman, who attracted the largest crowd of onlookers and trigger-happy cameramen, shot a two-under 70.

By his own standards, an eagle and a solitary birdie would have seemed inadequate, but the 33-year-old and four-time Major winner, will still be pleased with his work, with two rounds still to play before the tournament crowns a winner on Monday.

And given the way his putter worked for him all day on Saturday, Thorbjornsen must fancy his chances of being that person.

“I feel I definitely played well. There were some shots out there where the driver isn’t 100 percent right now but I am managing with what I have,” he said.

“Hopefully I can sort it out for Sunday. I have to keep on with what I am doing and stick to the game plan and just focus one shot at a time.

“It feels good. I thought I had a pretty good game plan and just stuck to it,” he added.

And like any young golfer he was enjoying playing on a big stage again having experienced the glare of lights once before at the U.S. Open.

“I enjoy playing professional golf a lot and I'm still an amateur,” he said. “But just the golf courses that we play, the crowd out there, it's what I'm dreaming of ever since I was five or six years old. It just feels good to be out there.

Belgium’s Thomas Pieters, who matched Thorbjornsen opening round score of 66, had to endure a sluggish start with three bogeys in the first nine before he recovered well after the turn to hit seven birdies in the last nine.

“I was not in a good space after nine holes but I just focused ahead and made some good putts which was the key,” he said.

“It was the same yesterday and it has really bailed me out as my driving has been pretty bad and something I need to fix on.”

Richard Bland, who upon resuming his second round matched his first-round score of 67 with the help of a birdie and an eagle.

“The ball wasn't going too far this morning,” admitted Bland, a 49-year-old veteran from Staffordshire in England. “So that was kind of one of the sorts of things you just had to be wary of. But as it warmed up, the ball was travelling a little further, so I got caught out a couple of times early.

“But it's just nice to play with the sun on your back which we're used to in Dubai. So it's nice.”

Another player who had a sensational day was England’s Dan Banbury who delivered the lowest score of the day a rip-roaring 63, which at one time looked like it could match Ernie Els’ course record 61 from 1994.

As Banbury putted for nine birdies, including six in the last nine holes, Ireland’s Shane Lowry failed to make the cut and bowed out of the tournament following two disappointing rounds.

Combining the world-class golf was an array of family-friendly entertainment at Tournament Town for adults and children to enjoy including bubble artists, stilt walkers, children’s entertainers, magicians, graffiti artists, and musicians.

The entertainment will continue until Monday.

The Hero Dubai Desert Classic will see Round 3 take place on Sunday with Round 4 closing out the tournament on Monday.


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