Three-time winner Ernie Els turned back the clock in the second round of Omega Dubai Desert Classic, carding an eagle and seven birdies to sit a shot off the lead at the halfway stage.
Playing in a ‘golden oldies’ group along with Colin Montgomerie and Jose Maria Olazabal, the 49-year-old South African carded a seven-under-par 65 - his best score on the Majlis Course at Emirates Golf Club since a similar effort in 2008.
Els is the only player to claim this title three times, having landed it in 1994, 2002 and 2005, while he didn’t finish outside top 10 between 1993 and 2008.
“I like this place, having had some really great times here,” said the big South African after moving to 11-under-par, a shot behind American Bryson DeChambeau and another of the game’s rising stars, Australian Lucas Herbert.
“I’m swinging well, my body feels well. I’m going on the memory bank, I guess. Playing with Colin and José was also fun. We’ve done a lot in the game, and we had a good couple of chats, and I found my form. You’ve got to love it.”
Els last won on the European Tour in 2013, a year after he claimed a second Open Championship victory. He has one eye on the Champions Tour and also a Presidents’ Cup captaincy next year.
However, the way he has played over the opening two days, he is entitled to be heading into the weekend thinking he can give the young guns a run for their money.
“A lot of work to be done, but so far I’m enjoying it,” he added. “I’m 50 in October, so I’ll try and have a good year this year.”
DeChambeau, the world No 5, finished as leading amateur in this event two years ago and now has the iconic coffee pot that has been claimed twice by Stephen Gallacher in his sights.
He also signed for an eagle and seven birdies in a second successive 66 to join Herbert after he’d set the clubhouse target following a nine-under-par 63.
“Man, you know, I thought after yesterday getting it around not making a bogey was awesome, but today even more impressive with three bogeys on the card, still shooting 6-under. I was happy about that,” said DeChambeau.
His eagle came at the 10th, where he holed a lengthy putt with the flag in. “That’s the exact reason,” he said of having decided to embrace that particular rule change.
“If I had a higher terminal velocity, it may have bounced off. But at that point it was still good enough to dampen it enough to drop in the cup. I talked this week about reading the green right, and we’ve done a pretty darned good job so far. Hopefully we can keep it up.”
Herbert, a 23-year-old from Melbourne, recorded five top-10s as a rookie on the European Tour last season and has wasted no time in showing he’s determined to kick on this year. This eye-catching effort was sparked by an eagle-birdie-birdie start before rolling in 40-footer for birdie at the last.
“I probably left some out there. to be honest,” he declared. “I was seven-under through about 11 holes, and it just felt like I was cruising.”
Spaniard Alvaro Quiros sits alongside Els after a 64, with defending champion Haotong Li on 10-under along with English pair Callum Shinkwin and Matt Wallace, as well as Australian Jason Scrivener and Frenchman Matthieu Pavon.