Jamie Donaldson. Remember him? The man who clinched victory in style for the home team at Gleneagles in the 2014 Ryder Cup came perilously close to losing his European Tour card at the end of last season but is back on song. After rounds of 62 and 69 for a 13-under-par total, the Welshman is out in front in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
Following a fog delay that lasted two hours and 50 minutes, two-time winner Rory McIlroy is among a group of players facing an early return to the Majlis Course at Emirates Golf Club on Saturday morning to complete their second round, with the Ulsterman having moved to 10-under with seven holes to play.
The ever-improving Chinese player Haotong Li, classy South African Branden Grace and an evergreen Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez are also set to be in the mix at the halfway stage, but no-one has been more impressive on the opening two days in the $3 million event than Donaldson.
The 42-year-old flirted with a 59 in his opening round before a last-hole bogey prevented him from equalling Ernie Els’s course record and he backed that up with a solid second effort to sit a shot clear of Li (66), with Grace (65) and Jimenez (68) two and three off the lead respectively.
“I have backed up low scores like the one yesterday with another one in the past, but today it wasn’t to be,” said Donaldson, who produced the European Tour’s Shot of the Year with his approach at the 15th on the PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles to secure Europe’s victory in the Ryder Cup six years ago. “I’m quite happy with a 60, though, as it was pretty solid again.”
Donaldson, a three-time Tour winner, left it late to hang on to his card last season, finishing fourth in the final regular event, the Valderrama Masters, to scrape into the top 100 in the Race to Dubai by a single shot.
“Yeah, buzzing,” he said of that feat. “To do it around Valderrama, a tough golf course, was really pleasing. It was up there with the best of the feats in my career. There have been a lot of times when I’ve had to do it, including the Ryder Cup, and you have to. It’s sort of Last Chance Saloon, isn’t it. You have to do it, otherwise that’s it.”
McIlroy isn’t the only player reaping rewards from working with putting guru Phil Kenyon. He’s also helped Donaldson improve enormously in that department. “Before seeing Phil, I couldn’t read a green and couldn’t hit it on line,” he revealed. “But yesterday my alignment stuff and green reading was brilliant and today was very good again. Now I’m looking to do more of the same tomorrow and Sunday.”
Grace, who shot the first 62 in a men’s major in the third round of the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale last July, again showed his ability to go low with the day’s best effort while Jimenez was equally pleased with his six-birdie salvo.
The 54-year-old won this event in 2010 but plays most of his golf on the Champions Tour these days and joined Colin Montgomerie in travelling here from Hawaii after finishing fourth in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship last Saturday.
“I still like to play against the young boys on the European Tour,” he said, smiling. “This is my 30th season but this is a golf course that I can play and be competitive.”
After picking up three shots in the first five holes, McIlroy had his first bogey of the event after driving into the desert at the eighth before repairing that damage two holes later.
“I’m in a good position,” insisted the four-time major winner, who finished joint-third in Abu Dhabi last weekend on his return after a three-month break. “Hopefully I can come out in the morning and make a few more birdies and get closer to the lead. It will probably be a good test for me to play 26 holes tomorrow. We’ll see how the body responds to it.”
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