RAFAEL Cabrera Bello made the most of an opportunity to impress Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley as he stormed into the lead in the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters yesterday.
Cabrera Bello outscored playing partner McGinley by 12 shots over the first two rounds in Doha, adding a sparkling 65 to his opening 66 to finish on 13 under par.
The 29-year-old Spaniard, who was fourth behind compatriot Pablo Larrazabal in Abu Dhabi last week, carded one bogey and eight birdies, five of them in the last seven holes as he covered the back nine in 31 strokes. That gave the former junior Ryder Cup player a two-shot lead over South African George Coetzee, who had looked like holding on to his overnight lead after shooting a 69 earlier in the day.
Cabrera Bello won the Dubai Desert Classic in 2012 and admitted he feels quite at home on the European Tour’s Middle East Swing. “I’m very happy, everything is going good and I am enjoying myself a lot,” he said.
“It definitely feels like home. I like playing in short sleeves, I like seeing palm trees and sand around the course. It reminds me a lot of the Canaries.
“I start the year here and it doesn’t feel like I have left home. Tomorrow is another day and we start from scratch, playing one shot at a time and just going out there and keep enjoying myself.
“I’ve been doing it this week and last week, enjoying being up there and in contention where every shot matters and I will try to perform as good as I know I can.”
Coetzee, who finished second in Qatar last year when Chris Wood eagled the 72nd hole to win by a single shot, said: “I enjoy this place and will be trying to do one better than last year. I just had a bit of a wobble on the 11th, my second hole, but otherwise I played pretty nicely. There are some bogeys out there but there’s definitely some birdies to recover from.”
English duo Steve Webster and Matthew Baldwin shared third place on 10 under after rounds of 69 and 66 respectively, alongside Sweden’s Johan Carlsson, the Challenge Tour graduate firing eight birdies and an eagle in his 65.
Webster could not repeat the fireworks of his opening 65, when he recorded what is believed to be the first ever albatross on the opening hole of a tournament.
But the two-times European Tour winner still managed to chip in for a birdie on his first hole on Thursday and the 39-year-old added five more and three bogeys.
“It was a little bit scrappy today,” Webster said. “I missed the green with a lob wedge on the first and chipped in for a birdie which was nice. I played good but didn’t give myself enough chances so 69, I’m happy with that.”
Webster had holed his second shot to the par-five 10th – his first hole – from 254 yards on Wednesday, and was entertaining thoughts of an amazing repeat when he reached the hole again yesterday morning.
“I had the perfect yardage for my five wood again but just pulled it a bit and hit it to 40ft,” Webster added. “It was in my mind again and I thought back to back would be nice, but it didn’t happen.”
Webster revealed he had worked hard on his putting earlier in the week with coach Damian Taylor, who also works with Larrazabal.
“It would be nice to do the double,” Webster added. “We did a lot of work Monday and Tuesday on my putting, probably six hours, and changed the shaft in my putter for a little bit more feel and it’s working well this week. If you can make a few putts it makes all the difference out here.”
European No 1 Henrik Stenson took 14 holes to record his first birdie as he struggled to a 71 to lie five under, while playing partners Luke Donald and Jason Dufner finished three under in contrasting fashion.
Former world No 1 Donald, who now shares a coach with Dufner, was in danger of missing the cut until coming home in 32 for a 69, while US PGA champion Dufner bogeyed two of the last four holes to return a 71.
The cut fell at one under par and defending champion Wood scraped through on the mark thanks to a birdie on the 18th.
It was a mixed day for the seven Scots in Qatar. Stephen Gallacher and Paul Lawrie are still in touch, six shots off the pace going into today’s third round. Gallacher yesterday added a 68 to his opening 69, while Lawrie followed up his first-round 67 with a 70.
Craig Lee is two shots further back after an impressive 67 yesterday but Chris Doak (72), Peter Whiteford (73), Jamie McLeary (71) and Marc Warren (76) all failed to make the cut.