Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell in the lead
Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell were both at their pacesetting best yesterday.
While McDowell showed the spirit of 2010 at Sun City as a superb second round 67 lifted him to the top of the elite 12-man field at the US$5m Nedbank Challenge, his buddy McIlroy - despite bogeying two of his last three holes - shared the lead after the second round of the Hong Kong Open with Alvaro Quiros.
While the Holywood man battles against exhaustion as he bids for victory in the Race to Dubai, it is the return to form of Portrush man McDowell which is winning admirers.
G-Mac looked virtually invincible last year as he won the US Open; three other tournaments and clinched victory for Europe at the Ryder Cup ... yet he's struggled to recapture that world-beating form.
McDowell looked like his old swashbuckling self as he shot the low round of the week to go one ahead of Martin Kaymer, Lee Westwood, Robert Karlsson and Jason Dufner. He opened with birdie and broke clear of his rivals with a run of four more in five holes with a chip-in at 13, the most impressive feature of McDowell's round was his spirited recovery from a double-bogey seven at 14. He saved par from a fairway bunker at 15 before two 20 foot birdie putts at 16 and 18.
McDowell had worked until darkness on the range after a first round 70 and thanked coach Pete Cowen for the telephone tip which put his swing back on plane ... and helped put the glint back in his eye.
"That's exactly what I wanted," said McDowell. "It's a pretty bunched leaderboard, which says a lot about how tough the course is when you start leaving the beaten track."
Darren Clarke rebounded from Thursday's frustrating 74 with an incident-packed 69 yesterday.
After picking up two shots in a bogey-free front nine, the Open Champion had six birdies, a bogey and two double-bogeys on his way home.
Meanwhile, McIlroy has revealed how his whirlwind end-of-season schedule landed him in hospital. The 22-year-old entered this weekend at the Hong Kong Open tied first with Spain's Alvaro Quiros on seven-under, despite dropping two shots in the final three holes of yesterday's second round 69.
McIlroy admitted he'd been feeling a bit under the weather recently. He fell ill during last month's holiday with world tennis No 1 Caroline Wozniacki in the Maldives, where his blood count was so low, the ailing Ulsterman spent three days on an intravenous drip. The couple then headed for Dubai, where the run-down star once again had to be placed on a drip.
McIlroy yesterday pledged to do everything in his power to secure victory this weekend and then give Race to Dubai leader Luke Donald a real run for his money in next week's $7.5m climax to the European Tour, the Dubai World Championship. Yet he insisted he's learned a valuable, though painful lesson about the importance of pacing himself.
"I'm mentally and physically fatigued and it showed in a couple of tired swings toward the end of today's round," McIlroy explained.
"I don't think the season was long. I made the season long for myself. It was not as if I was obligated to play."
US Open champion, McIlroy may be the hottest property in golf but he and new management team at Horizon are certain to plan a more conservative schedule in future.
"The last 10 weeks has been long," McIlroy conceded. "I'd two weeks off in the Maldives between the HSBC Champions and the World Cup but I got sick during this time and I was on the drip for three days, which wasn't nice.
"I think a little bit of that (illness) is still there," McIlroy went on. "I'm not feeling 100 per cent but it's fine. I just need to get a lot of rest between rounds. There's only a few left this season and I'm going to try and give my all in every single one of them."
Gareth Maybin received a timely boost as he fights to save his Tour card yesterday, when he won a €17,000 (£14,554) Omega watch after landing the fifth ace of his career with a sweet 5-iron at Hong Kong's 119 yards fourth.
He'd double-bogey the next on his way to a second round 73 but after making the cut comfortably on one-under, Maybin needs only to finish in the top 50 to keep his card.
Michael Hoey is out though after he missed the cut by five shots as his second round 71 saw him finish on nine under par.