A month after fearing for his future in the game, Ernie Els cruised into contention for a fourth victory in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic as defending champion Rory McIlroy kept his own title hopes alive.
McIlroy was outside the projected cut when he carded his fifth bogey of the day on the 11th, but birdied four of his remaining seven holes to salvage a 72 and finish four under par.
That was six shots behind halfway leader and 2012 champion Rafael Cabrera-Bello, with South Africa’s Els a shot behind alongside compatriot Trevor Fisher Jnr and England’s Danny Willett.
“I did not have my best stuff with me and struggled at the start and in the middle of the round,” McIlroy told Sky Sports. “I needed something, first and foremost just to be here for the weekend, and then to birdie the last three holes definitely gives me a little bit of momentum going into the weekend.
“I felt like I played some decent golf out there but missed some short putts. I just wasn’t committing to the lines I was picking. All in all it was a decent finish and if I can get off to a better start (on Saturday) you never know.
“There’s a lot of players between myself and the lead, but at the same time I’ve come back from bigger deficits than this, and this is one of my favourite places.
“The course got firm and fast and in a way I’m thankful that I’m not going to be out in one of the last pairings (on Saturday), because I feel like I’ll get some of the better conditions and the course will be a little more receptive.”
Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke missed the cut as did Graeme McDowell, Michael Hoey and Paul McGinley.