Richard Bland of England took the lead at the Dubai Desert Classic on Saturday as Rory McIlroy headed to the driving range after an inconsistent round.
With heavy rain forcing a Monday finish Bland, who lost in a play-off last year, added a second consecutive five-under-par 67 at the top of the mid-table with Belgian Thomas Pieters (67) and American amateur Michael Thorbjornsen (64).
Swede Marcus Kinhult (65), Scotsman Connor Syme (67) and Spaniard Adri Arnaus (68) finished nine-under-par in fourth place on a day when the sun was finally shining.
But the 60-plus millimeters of rain dumped over the last few days had made conditions soft and the rules of favorite lies were still in play, favoring low scores.
World number one McIlroy was not too happy with his round of two under par 70.
He moved to eight under par to be tied for seventh, but headed straight to the driving range to fix a driver who erred.
The round was aided by an eagle on the 13th hole, where he drained a 34-foot putt. Otherwise, she’s only had one birdie and one bogeyman in an easy-to-score day.
“Just a little rusty. Yes, I have to go do some work,” he said.
“I think it’s nice when you’re not feeling on your game, you have a short game to save you, and I think that’s why I’m not too far off the lead yet.”
– Bland out to make amends –
Bland, who lost to Viktor Hovland 12 months ago, managed just one bogey in the 36 holes and was delighted with his form.
“Conditions were much easier. The ball wasn’t going too far this morning. So that was one of the things you had to be careful of,” he said.
“It’s just nice to play with the sun on your back which we are used to in Dubai,” added the winner of the British Masters in 2021.
On his allegiance to LIV Golf and the acrimony it has generated with players and officials resorting to verbal attacks, Bland said he just wanted to keep his focus on the game of golf.
“I think everyone understands my position at the age I’m at and the opportunity that’s presented to me,” commented Bland, who turns 50 next week.
For Pieters, it was a round of two halves. He was two down after making three bogeys on the toughest front nine, but he put in beautifully on the back nine to make seven birdies.
“The front nine, I was a little scruffy. I had two bogeys with a wedge. Coming out of the ninth, I wasn’t in good headspace,” said world number 39 Pieters, who missed the cut as champion in charge in Abu Dhabi last week.
Stanford’s young Thorbjornsen, second in the world rankings in amateur golf, made an eagle on the 18th and five birdies in the first nine after starting from the 10th tee.
“I really enjoy playing professional golf and I’m still an amateur,” he said.
“Just the golf courses we play, the crowds out there, that’s what I’ve been dreaming about since I was five or six. It’s just great to be out there.”
LIV players Patrick Reed and Ian Poulter also stand alongside McIlroy in an eight-man group eight down.
Luke Donald will play Henrik Stenson, who he replaced as Ryder Cup captain after the Swede was sacked for joining LIV, in Sunday’s third round.