Shane Lowry, Padraig Harrington and Rory McIlroy dipped into the red figures to keep their hopes of victory on life support in the $8m DP World Tour Championship, Dubai.
Lowry said he was pleased to escape with a one under 71 considering his troubles and leads the Irish challenge on three under par, six adrift of Spaniard Sergio Garcia and Italian Francesco Molinari, who posted matching five under par rounds of 67 on the Earth Cours at Jumeirah Golf Estates to share the halfway lead on nine under par.
“It was eventful alright,” said Lowry, who followed early birdies at the second and third with bogeys at the fourth, seventh and ninth before clawing back two shots on the homeward nine.
Tied for 17th on three under, Lowry told Meridian Media’s Denis Kirwan: “I had a bit of a blip in the middle of the round but then I got it back and hit it lovely and I was unfortunate where my second ended up at the last and my lie there. I could have made four and shot two under.
"But I am actually quite pleased. I just hope the leaders don’t get too far ahead… I need to go out and shoot in the mid 60s tomorrow to give myself a chance and I definitely feel like I am playing the golf to do it.”
Garcia and Molinari carded three birdies on the front nine and added a further three more after the turn, combined with one bogey apiece, to move to nine under par in the European Tour’s season-finale.
Overnight leader Lee Westwood looked set to make it a three-way tie at the top of the leaderboard, but the Englishman found the water on the 18th hole and finished with a bogey to drop back to eight under par, signing for a round of 70.
With top 42 players covered by eight shots, the tournament is wide open and Harrington is not counting himself out in his last event before he takes a 10-week winter break.
“I played pretty well all the way through but for two days I just haven’t holed the birdie putts, but I am holing the par putts,” Harrington said. “I’ve hit good putts. They will fall another day.”
He added; “Six shots back would be a genuine chance on this golf course as it tends to get a little tighter on the weekend, that’s for sure.
“I don’t believe it’s going to stay like that but even if I was nine shots back and there weren’t too many people up there, it’s still a possibility.”
As for his winter plans, he said: “I’ll get home, get in the gym and try to find a bit of yardage for next year.”
As for defending champion McIlroy, the world No 2 undid some of the damage of his first round 75 with a six birdie 68 leaving him in a 14-man tie for 29th with the likes of Harrington on one under.
Refusing to rule himself out just yet, McIlroy said: “If Lee or one of the guys doesn’t get past 10 under, for example, then I feel like I still have a bit of a chance going into the weekend.”
In the contest for the European Tour Number One spot, Alex Noren improved his chances of beating his compatriot, Henrik Stenson, to the Race to Dubai crown with a round of 69 which moved the four-time winner to tied 14th place on four under par.
Noren needs to finish second or better and hope Open Champion Stenson is outside the top eight, but Stenson is monitoring his progress closely after also returning a 69 to sit just one shot behind him on three under par, where he is joined by another Race to Dubai contender, Danny Willett, who carded a 70.
“I played nicely. Obviously I didn't hit a good tee shot on 12 and 13. And I could have made some more putts, but it's not easy, when you're having 12, 15, 18-footers. You're going to miss some of them. We'll probably have to finish below 16-under par I'm guessing, so unless it gets really windy, which it doesn't look like it's going to happen, I'm going to have to keep firing and hitting good shots and making good putts.
“I'm excited for the weekend. It's good to be out there with a chance in the last tournament of the year. I just want to make sure that I keep playing the same way I've played these first two days and see where that takes us. We are all trying to get into contention as much as possible so when you get yourself into position for the weekend you want to try and take that opportunity as often as you can.”
“It was another good day. I played well. Maybe yesterday the start was even better, but I played solid pretty much all the round. I had I think a little lapse in concentration on the 10th and then recovered well, and, it’s another solid round. I'm happy where I am after two rounds. I holed a good putt for birdie on 14, and it kick-started a few holes where I hit some really good shots and made some nice birdies. I had a nice recovery on 17 from the bunker, and then on 18, I hit two good shots and just a poor shot into the green, which is a shame, because it was a pretty good yardage going in. All in all, it's fine. It's really hot out there, so it's tough to keep your focus for 18 holes.
“I’m in a good position going into the weekend. It’s only halfway obviously, but it's nice to keep building after good round yesterday as well.”
“I played nicely again. I hit the ball pretty solid and gave myself a lot of chances. Thought scoring was a bit tricky today for some reason. Some of the flags were tucked. Some were easy and you could go at them, but it's a good score. I was extremely patient. I was hitting it close but not close enough; I was hitting it to 20 feet a lot, and those are tough to make on these greens. I think 70 is a more than good score.
“I am looking forward to the weekend. There's always a low score around this golf course. That's the great thing about it; if you play well it gives you a chance to score low, and if you don't, anybody can shoot 75 or 76. It's very fair in that regard. You’ve just got to hit a lot of fairways, hit it close as often as you can.”
Round two scores
135 F Molinari (Ita) 68 67, S Garcia (Esp) 68 67,
136 L Westwood (Eng) 66 70,
137 T Hatton (Eng) 71 66, C Schwartzel (RSA) 70 67, J Luiten (Ned) 68 69, B Wiesberger (Aut) 70 67,
138 N Colsaerts (Bel) 67 71, M Fitzpatrick (Eng) 69 69,
139 S Kjeldsen (Den) 70 69, B An (Kor) 70 69, N Elvira (Esp) 70 69, V Dubuisson (Fra) 70 69,
140 R Sterne (RSA) 70 70, J Van Zyl (RSA) 69 71, A Noren (Swe) 71 69,
141 Shane Lowry (Irl) 70 71, T Olesen (Den) 71 70, R Gouveia (Por) 72 69, H Stenson (Swe) 72 69, D Willett (Eng) 71 70, T Fleetwood (Eng) 70 71,
142 P Larrazábal (Esp) 71 71, G Coetzee (RSA) 72 70, A Levy (Fra) 69 73, A Sullivan (Eng) 76 66, R Cabrera Bello (Esp) 71 71, R Karlberg (Swe) 72 70,
143 R Jacquelin (Fra) 72 71, R Paratore (Ita) 70 73, M Ilonen (Fin) 70 73, Rory McIlroy (Nir) 75 68, K Aphibarnrat (Tha) 69 74, Pádraig Harrington (Irl) 72 71, L Oosthuizen (RSA) 69 74, M Fraser (Aus) 69 74, D Lipsky (USA) 72 71, J Quesne (Fra) 67 76, J Lagergren (Swe) 74 69, D Horsey (Eng) 72 71, J Campillo (Esp) 72 71, R Fisher (Eng) 72 71,
144 L Haotong (Chn) 74 70, T Pieters (Bel) 72 72, S Lee (Kor) 71 73, T Jaidee (Tha) 74 70,
145 S Hend (Aus) 72 73, G Bourdy (Fra) 72 73, A Cañizares (Esp) 73 72, M Kaymer (Ger) 71 74,
146 B Grace (RSA) 72 74, M Southgate (Eng) 72 74,
147 B Stone (RSA) 74 73, C Wood (Eng) 75 72, J Wang (Kor) 75 72, R Bland (Eng) 71 76, B Dredge (Wal) 72 75, F Aguilar (Chi) 74 73,
148 A Johnston (Eng) 78 70,
150 R Wattel (Fra) 82 68