McIlroy lurking as McDowell and Dunne face anxious wait
Jamie Donaldson of Wales hits his tee shot on the 8th hole during round two of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic at Emirates Golf Club on 26 January, 2018 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.  Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Jamie Donaldson of Wales hits his tee shot on the 8th hole during round two of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic at Emirates Golf Club on 26 January, 2018 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.  Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Graeme McDowell could do with a break but even after firing a bogey-free 68 in round two of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic there was no guarantee he'd make the cut for today's third round.

The Portrush man (38) feels like a throwback to a bygone age in the era of the long bomber and admits it "sucks" to be one of the game's shorter hitters and 202nd in the world.

"I look around and the game is changing and changing very rapidly,” he said at the end of last year when he was dealing with a massive loss in ball speed.

"There are guys out there and all they want to do is hit it as far as they humanly can and then take care of business from there."

McDowell knows that these are also some of the most skilled players in the world but for all his long, straight driving this week, he found himself tied for 65th on four-under-par with Paul Dunne last night.

Both men were left wondering if the 66 players yet to complete their rounds following a two hour and 50-minute fog delay will push the cut to five-under par or struggle in cool, morning conditions.

Patience will pay off though it didn't help Dunne, who sat stoically through the long fog-delay, then plugged in the steep face of a bunker on his opening hole, made a bogey six and followed a 66 with a 74 to also find himself teetering on the cut mark.

While Darren Clarke shot 77 to finish on eight over and extend his streak of missed cuts on the European Tour to 18 months, Rory McIlroy is eyeing the business end of the leaderboard.

The world number 11 made four birdies and a bogey in 11 holes to move up to tied fifth on 10-under par with the likes of Miguel Angel Jiménez (54) when play was suspended until the morning.

“I'm in a good position," said McIlroy, who is just three strokes behind clubhouse leader Jamie Donaldson, who followed his opening 62 with a 69 to lead by one on 13-under par from China's Li Haotong. 

"It was hard waiting all day to go out there," added McIlroy, who birdied the second, third and fifth before making his first bogey of the week at the eighth, carving his tee shot 60 yards right into the desert.

"I nearly got away with a par but dropped a shot. But it was nice to get a shot back there on 10 at the end of the round. Hopefully, I can come out in the morning and make a few more birdies and get closer to the lead.

“It will probably be a good test for me to play 26 holes tomorrow. We’ll see how the body responds to it.

“I maybe didn't putt quite as well as I did yesterday. But as I say, I drove the ball a bit better and gave myself opportunities to score. 

“I feel like I can put the ball on the fairway for the last few holes in the morning, create some more chances and try to get myself to the top of the leaderboard.”

Like McDowell, Donaldson knows what it’s like to go from Ryder Cup hero to zero in the space of a few years.

The Welshman (42), who flirted with a 59 in round one, was the match-winner at Gleneagles in 2015, hitting the European Tour’s Shot of the Year to set up that memorable win for Paul McGinley's European team.

Yet last year the former Irish Open champion had to finish fourth in the final regular event to keep his card, scraping into the top 100 in the Race to Dubai after a heart-stopping week in the Valderrama Masters.

“I have backed up low scores like the one yesterday with another one in the past, but today it wasn’t to be,” said Donaldson

“I played nicely. Drove the ball well. Iron play was good. Took my chances when I was close enough to do so. 

"Hit a lot of really good putts that didn't go in, whereas yesterday they all went in, but 69 following a 62 is a solid score.”

Jiménez rolled back the years with a round of 68 that included six birdies and one bogey, to take the 54-year-old, 21-time European Tour winner to ten under par, alongside South African Thomas Aiken and four-time Major winner Rory McIlroy, who will complete his remaining seven holes on Saturday morning.

Six players are currently tied for eighth place at nine under, while England’s Matthew Southgate is part of a group of 15 players one shot further back after he made the second hole-in-one of the season with a nine iron from 154 yards on the seventh, en route to a round of 68.