McGinley and Donald close in on lead

Paul McGinley and Luke Donald today moved into position to challenge for the €5.9m NEC World Championship in Akron this weekend.

Paul McGinley and Luke Donald today moved into position to challenge for the €5.9m NEC World Championship in Akron this weekend.

But now comes the hard part – the player they are chasing is Firestone course specialist Tiger Woods.

With three and four holes to play in their second rounds the two European Ryder Cup team-mates stood four under and joint second with Swede Henrik Stenson.

Woods, though, was five under at the venue where he has won three times and had nothing worse than a fourth place finish in his last five visits.

It did not promise to be the best of days for Donald, seeking his first victory of a season which has nevertheless seen him move close to breaking into the world’s top 10, when he came up short of the 11th green, his second, and bogeyed to slip to level par.

But he holed from just over 20 feet at the 13th, pitched to six feet on the next and hit his tee shot to within five feet at the 221-yard 15th.

Out in 33 he then added another birdie on the long second.

McGinley had five strokes to make up on Woods when he teed off again at one over, but in went successive putts of eight, 18 and 20 feet from the 11th and he then had a real bonus on the long 16th, just carrying the lake with his pitch and holing from nearly 35 feet.

Out in 31 as a result he slipped up at the 399-yard first, but came back with further birdies at the next two.

Woods was two ahead after 13 holes, but then came his first bogey of the tournament at the 467-yard next, where he advanced his second shot only 111 yards from the rough and could not get up and down.

David Howell and Stephen Dodd, involved in a play-off for the Irish Open three months ago, went in completely opposite directions.

Howell, in only his second tournament since spending two months on the sidelines with a torn abdominal muscle, returned a 68 to stand two under and well in the hunt.

But Dodd’s start was a complete and utter nightmare.

The Welshman, who won that play-off, double-bogeyed the first three holes and at 10 over par was only one shot off last place in a field reduced to 71 players by Graeme McDowell’s retirement with back trouble yesterday.

Dodd’s opening drive was pushed into the trees and travelled only 170 yards. Then, after recovering onto the fairway, he missed the green completely with a simple-looking pitch and took three more.

At the long second he found sand off the tee and with his third shot flew the green wildly and took four more to hole out.

The 442-yard third saw another adventure. This time Dodd’s approach failed to make the carry over the lake.

This weekend gives Howell the chance to seal a place in the elite 16-man field for the HSBC World Match Play championship at Wentworth next month, when golf’s biggest first prize of €1.5m will be on offer again.

Two spots are handed out off the European Order of Merit after next week’s event in Germany and Swede Niclas Fasth and Howell occupy them at the moment - with Dodd among those chasing.

A winner’s cheque of €1.1m this Sunday is not be sniffed at, of course, and that was where his attention was for the moment.

Howell turned in 32, but his back nine comprised eight pars and a six on the monster 667-yard 16th, where he was in rough for two and did not dare risk trying to carry the lake with his next.

That was wise – Davis Love had just taken eight there after moving into third place.

Vijay Singh was another to run up a six on the hole and when he bogeyed the 17th as well the world number two, joint overnight leader with Woods and Stenson, slipped to three under.

Northumberland’s Kenneth Ferrie, like Stenson playing his first World Golf Championship event, was level par along with Colin Montgomerie, but Nick Dougherty, joint leader until he closed with a bogey last night, had a shocker.

The Liverpool 23-year-old, another WGC debutant, fell right away to four over with bogeys at the 11th, 14th, 15th, 17th, 18th, third and fourth.

At four over he was alongside Ian Poulter, Paul Casey and Padraig Harrington, with Lee Westwood one further back, 2003 winner Darren Clarke six over, Stephen Gallacher eight over and Dodd 10 over.

Howell said: “I played really well. There were a couple of poor shots, but I drove it great and could have scored better.

“Yesterday was the first day I didn’t feel it at all, so I’m very pleased and now I can concentrate on the golf.

“It was quite a bad injury and you always wonder how long it will take. But I don’t think it will harm me in the long run.”

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