Rory relieved to swing back into mix after poor start
World No.2 Rory McIlroy got exactly what he wanted to keep his hopes of a successful title defence alive in the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.
McIlroy completed a second round of 68 more than an hour before the leaders teed off and headed to the beach hoping not to be facing an insurmountable deficit over the last 36 holes.
And although Sergio Garcia and Francesco Molinari both shot 67 to share the halfway lead on nine under par, McIlroy had not given up hope of coming from eight shots behind to claim a fourth win of the season.
"If I'm within eight or nine shots, I still feel like I have a decent chance," said Ulsterman McIlroy, whose opening 75 was his first over-par score in 29 rounds in the European Tour's season finale, which he has won twice and never finished worse than 11th in seven appearances.
"Thursday was just one of those days. I was mentally very flat, still in holiday mode and not quite switched on. I turned it around and hopefully can do the same over the weekend."
Garcia carded six birdies and one bogey in his 67, which also featured a brilliant par save on the 12th after driving into a bush and being forced to take a penalty drop.
The Spaniard said: "I was fortunate a guy from the crowd found it for me and I was able to drop outside the bush.
"I hit a really good shot from there with a seven iron and made a really nice putt. I had a good feeling on that putt."
Molinari is enjoying arguably the best form of his career after winning the Italian Open in September, finishing sixth in the WGC-HSBC Champions and fourth in the Shriners Open thanks to a closing 61.
And to make matters even better, the 34-year-old's older brother Edoardo finished joint second in the European Tour's qualifying school on Thursday to regain his card for next season.
"He was actually disappointed not to win it but I told him not to be too greedy," Molinari said.
"Second is very good for him and it's nice to see him back. I'm sure he'll do his best next season not to show up there for a third time. It sounds like he's playing a lot better."
First-round leader Lee Westwood is a shot off the pace after a 70 marred by hitting his approach on the 18th into a water hazard, with Tyrrell Hatton, Joost Luiten, Charl Schwartzel and Bernd Wiesberger all on seven under.
"Somebody clicked a camera and put me off," Westwood said.
"It happens and you just have to regroup. The pitch shot in was poor, but it was a good two-putt.
"I'm one off the lead and I've got a good chance."
Race to Dubai rivals Henrik Stenson and Danny Willett were both on three under after rounds of 69 and 70 respectively, although Stenson was more concerned with the well-being of a female spectator hit on the head by his tee shot on the 13th.
"It was very unfortunate," said the Open champion, who leads Willett by 299,675 points. "I'm making sure to get her details so I can send her something nice."