Former Open champion Paul Lawrie enhanced his reputation as a bad-weather specialist to remain firmly on course for an unprecedented third victory in the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters.
But defending champion Branden Grace could also create history as the first player to successfully defend the title after a brilliant 68 gave him a share of second place alongside Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen.
Lawrie defied strong winds at Doha Golf Club to card 16 pars and two birdies to finish 13 under par, two ahead of Grace and Olesen, with England’s Tommy Fleetwood and Spain’s Rafael Cabrera-Bello a shot further back.
The 47-year-old’s first win in Qatar came in 1999, the same year as his Open triumph at Carnoustie, with the second in 2012 helping him secure a Ryder Cup return at Medinah after an absence of 13 years.
“It’s nice to know that you’ve been there, done it before a couple times on a golf course,” Lawrie said. “Every week that we play, your job is to get yourself in contention with nine holes to play and hopefully we can do that on the front nine.
“There’s a lot of good players behind me. Branden Grace won here before and is well up the world rankings so (Saturday) is going to be a different challenge, but I’m looking forward to it.”
Lawrie’s last victory came in the Johnnie Walker Championship in 2012, but he believes he has not forgotten how to get over the winning line.
“I had a couple of top-10s back-to-back last year at KLM and Denmark and really should have been higher up in both of them,” he added. “I had a good chance to win both tournaments on the back nine.
“It’s not as though it’s been years and hopefully I kind of get in there and hit the shots that I’m hitting and knock a few putts in and it all goes well.”
Lawrie carded 13 straight pars and admitted: “Me being me I’m thinking there’s a bogey coming. Obviously you want your next one to be a birdie but sometimes when you make that many pars, it goes the wrong way. But I kept plugging away, I kept going and my attitude was reasonable towards the end of the back nine.
“I knew I was going to make a birdie at some point in time so you’ve got to be patient. Sometimes they don’t go in, even though you’re hitting good putts. Everyone’s got that now and again.”
Grace’s par streak was even longer, the world No 11 following a birdie on the first with 14 pars before finishing in style with a hat-trick of birdies.
“It was a brutal day out there,” Grace said. “The wind was blowing and the greens were tricky. In conditions like that, it’s tough to give yourself those chances. I think patience was the name of the game. I pretty much got the most out of my round today. I didn’t really think I left any out there, so four under was a great score.
“It would be great to defend a title, I’ve not done it in my career.”
England’s Richard Bland is five off the lead after carding a 67, the lowest score of the day, with 2014 winner Sergio Garcia two shots further back after salvaging a 74 thanks to an eagle on the 18th.
Nicolas Colsaerts had twice shared the lead with former Ryder Cup partner Lawrie after two early birdies, but ran up a triple-bogey seven on the 14th when his attempted recovery shot from a sandy waste area hit a tree around 20 yards in front of him and bounced back into a bush. The 33-year-old eventually carded a 77 to finish eight off the lead on five under.
Meanwhile, Jordan Spieth slipped five shots off the lead at the Singapore Open yesterday when an electrical storm forced second-round play to be abandoned.
Spieth was lurking just one shot off the pace after his opening round at Sentosa Country Club, but suddenly found himself five strokes behind and tied for sixth place after Song Young-han of South Korea capitalized on his early start to beat the arrival of the foul weather and post an 8-under 63 to go to the clubhouse leading at 9 under.
Spieth, teeing off after lunchtime, completed just seven holes of his second round but failed to make up any ground on the new front-runner, remaining at 4 under after struggling with his putter, just as he did in Abu Dhabi last week. He briefly got to 5 under when he drained a long putt to birdie the par-3 second hole, but gave the shot back with his first bogey of the tournament, on the fifth hole.Spieth arrived in Southeast Asia already complaining of exhaustion after playing his last five events in five different countries. His hopes of a making a quick getaway back home to the United States, were at risk of being ruined by Singapore’s fickle weather, with tournament officials racing against time to finish on Sunday. The second round was still to be completed by 75 players.
Song made the most of the perfect early conditions to charge to the top with seven birdies and an eagle.