Irish have a blast in the desert

Brian Keogh in Dubai

Graeme McDowell and Gary Murphy emerged sand-blasted but happy after combining exfoliation with perspiration to remain on the coat-tails of Tiger Woods and surprise package Damien McGrane in the Dubai Desert Classic.

“It’s like you play golf and get a free exfoliation with it,” quipped McDowell after a emerging from the ‘shamal’ whipped sand across the Emirates course from the northwest. “That’s pretty impressive, playing golf in a sandblaster.”

The 28-year-old Ulsterman was frustrated to miss a four-foot birdie chance the 18th. But like Kilkenny native Murphy, who also ground out a level par 72 to lie just three strokes behind Woods in a seven-way tie for fifth place on five under par, McDowell hopes to make a run at the world No 1 over the weekend.

Both Murphy and McDowell mixed two birdies with two bogeys on a day when temperature plummented from the mid-20sC to around 17C and the field scoring average jumped from 71.39 to 73.62..

“It's pretty wild out there,” said Murphy, who has missed his last two cuts. “I didn't play as well as I played yesterday, but I am pleased to hang in there.

“You are trying to knuckle it around the whole way. You can't really go at flags or hit shots. They were sensible and moved a few tees up today and I still hit long irons into the holes.”

Looking for his first European Tour victory since the 2004 Italian Open, McDowell bogeyed his opening hole but came back with birdies at the second and third before dropping a stroke at the 14th.

Pleased with his short game and a tally of just 26 putts, he said: “I hope the weather gives us a chance to give Tiger a run for his money this weekend. It’s just nice to be on the sharp end of a proper event like this one early in the season. It gets the competitive juices flowing.”

Paul McGinley suffered on the greens again as he took 32 putts in an otherwise steady level par 72 to make the cut with ease on one under par.

Frustrated by his reading of the putting surfaces, he had no problem standing up for the much-maligned Ian Poulter and his ambitions to become world No 2.

“The tour would be a less colourful place without guys like Poulter,” McGinley said. “I don't understand what all the uproar is about.

“The first thing he said was 'I respect all the other players but I do believe I am good enough to be No 2.' If you don't believe that, what's the point in playing. I was disappointed to see him back down yesterday a little bit by saying he was misquoted. He said he respected every other player. Christ, you can't be mollycoddling and pussyfooting around everyone.”

Rory McIlroy (77), Peter Lawrie (77) and Darren Clarke (75) all missed the cut after poor finishes to their rounds.

Lawrie looked set to qualify comfortably when he got to four under par for the tournament with nine to play but came home in six over par 41, finishing with four consecutive bogeys from the sixth.

After finding water with his approach to his final hole (the 9th), McIlroy did well to make a bogey five but still missed out by one stroke while Clarke needed five closing pars to make it but bogeyed four holes holes in a row from the 14th to miss out by four.