By Phil Casey
A day after being fined for slow play, England’s Matt Wallace set the pace at the halfway stage of the DP World Tour Championship, where the battle for the Race to Dubai took another twist.
Wallace added a flawless 65 to his opening 68 at Jumeirah Golf Estates to reach 11 under par, a shot ahead of former Masters champion Danny Willett, Jordan Smith and Adrian Otaegui.
Current Masters champion Patrick Reed is two shots off the lead after a 66 compiled in the company of Rory McIlroy, whose 67 left him a stroke further back alongside Tommy Fleetwood, Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Dean Burmester.
McIlroy was delighted to move into contention after some indifferent form in his two starts since helping Europe regain the Ryder Cup at the end of September.
“I have to be pleased,” the four-time major winner said. “It’s a massive improvement considering the golf I’ve played the last couple of weeks. To shoot two scores in the 60s is great.
McIlroy engineered the perfect start to his round with a glorious approach to four feet on the first, which he rolled in for birdie and then reached the Par 5 second in two shots. His 35-foot eagle putt came up slightly short but he holed out from 36-inches.
At five under he had almost caught the overnight leaders but on the next pulled a wedge that ended up 50-feet from the pin and from there he three-putted for bogey to stifle that momentum.
A wonderful tee-shot to the par three, sixth came to rest a foot from the hole and he tapped in for a third birdie.
He should have had another at the Par 5 seventh but watched in horror, as the birdie putt lipped out.
On nine, he hooked his drive into the rough, caught a good lie, and then fired an approach to six feet, converting that for birdie and then added another on 10. As he had on the front nine, there was a momentary blip with a bogey on the 13th but a brace of birdies on 14 and 16 took him to eight under.
There was still time for a little drama when he watched his second shot to the 18th career into the grandstand and rebound into a bunker, from which he couldn’t get up and down, instead settling for a par.
Given the trajectory of his second shot and the list of possible outcomes he wasn’t too upset.
Meanwhile Fleetwood needs to win the season-ending event and see Ryder Cup partner Francesco Molinari finish outside the top five in order to retain his status as European number one, a scenario which looked unlikely when the latter carded an opening 68.
However, the Open champion struggled to a 73 yesterday to end the day in a tie for 27th on three under, six shots behind Reed in fifth place.
Wallace was fined £3,000 for taking too long over a par putt on the ninth hole on Thursday and would have faced a one-shot penalty for any further transgressions, but stayed within the time limits and birdied four of his last five holes.
Seven more birdies took the 28-year-old to the top of the leaderboard and he had no issues with the slow-play situation as he seeks the biggest win of his career and a fourth European Tour title of the season.
“We were on the clock and I managed to make a couple of birdies (on the seventh and eight), which was nice, and thought we were going to be off it pretty soon,” Wallace explained.
“And then I had a really tough two-putt on nine, I had a 40-footer up and over (a ridge) and left myself about 20 feet, so I had to reread it and that took longer than it should have done.”