Lothians star Stephen Gallacher today achieved his target in the second round of the £1.5 million Omega Dubai Desert Classic by hanging on to Rory McIlroy’s coat-tails - just.
Gallacher shot a 71 to lie four shots behind the World No.6 McIlroy who followed his majestic round of 63 yesterday with a more pedestrian 70.
Galacher went round in 66 on day one and was in awe of McIlroy.
“Rory has just been sublime,” reported Gallacher in delivering a verdict of the opening day that hit the nail squarely on the head.
“It was hard not to draw some inspiration from him as he played so good, making nine-under-par look easy.
“It was good having played with Tiger on Tuesday as I knew what to expect.
“You’ve got to get on with your own game. But he has been brilliant in both our rounds this week.
“It’s good to play with Tiger and Rory as you get the buzz. I wasn’t nervous at all and I want to be playing with one of them on Sunday – last off.
“I think the weather is supposed to be inclement on the weekend so I want to try and stay as close to Rory and Tiger as I can.”
McIlroy still expects to win the event for the second time, despite his frustration at failing to build a commanding halfway lead today.
He is one shot ahead of American Brooks Koepka, whose flawless 65 equalled the lowest score of the day.
England’s Danny Willett also shot 65 to share third place on eight under alongside Ireland’s Damien McGrane and France’s Julien Quesne, with European number one Henrik Stenson and Stephen Gallacher among seven players another shot back.
World number one Tiger Woods, playing alongside McIlroy, could only manage a 73 to make the cut with just one shot to spare on three under.
McIlroy dropped his first shot of the tournament on his opening hole on Friday and also hit bad drives at the next two holes, although he did birdie the par-five third and, after picking up further shots at the fifth and seventh, admitted he expected to pull away from the field.
“I thought so, yes,” McIlroy told Sky Sports. “Making a few birdies on the front nine and turning two under par was a good effort, especially as the wind started to get up.
“I birdied 10, played 11 and 12 okay but then missed that little one (a par putt from inside two feet) on 13, had a chance on 15 and didn’t convert and made bogey on 16, but it was nice to birdie the last and at least give myself a one-shot lead going into tomorrow.
“I will just go back tonight and regroup and realise that I am still leading the tournament. I hit a couple of loose drives which I haven’t done the last couple of weeks but I still feel like I’m playing well enough to go and win the tournament.”
Asked if he expected to claim his sixth European Tour title on Sunday, McIlroy added: “I do. I am leading the tournament, I’ve been in this position before and went on to win.
“I have led from the front quite well in tournaments that I have won. I feel like I am still playing well, I know the course as well as anyone else and I expect to go out there and shoot two good scores over the weekend and hopefully lift the trophy.”
Stenson could well be McIlroy’s biggest challenger after the Swede continued his excellent recovery from being three over par after five holes on Thursday.
“I think there is still a little way to go but today was the best I have putted for a long, long time,” said Stenson, who became the first man to win the FedEx Cup and Race to Dubai in the same season in 2013.
“I was threatening on every putt and kept the score together with no bogeys, which is always a good sign.”