By Matt Smith
DUBAI (Reuters) - Defending champion Henrik Stenson overcame fatigue to punish hesitant play from overnight pacesetter Rory McIlroy, taking a two-stroke lead over the world number one in the second round of the $8 million DP World Tour Championship on Friday.
Stenson, who shot a tournament record 25-under last year, picked up shots at holes one, two and five, and the 38-year-old completed a flawless back nine peppered with four birdies for a round of 66 and a score of 10 under par.
“I felt like I hit the wall on 12,” Stenson told reporters. “If it's one or two holes left, you normally feel 'okay, I can hang on'. I had to focus hard and drag myself over the finish line.”
The stage had seemed set for McIlroy, already crowned European money list winner for a second season in three, to assert his dominance, but the Northern Irishman toiled despite a first-hole birdie.
McIlroy, 25, sunk 10 successive pars before bogeying the par-four 12. He dropped another shot at 16, but birdies at 14, 15 and 17 and a par on the 18th despite finding water enabled the four-times major winner to finish on 70 and an aggregate 136.
“I just didn't quite have it,” McIlroy, 25 told reporters.
“It wasn't quite as easy as it was yesterday, hopefully that's the bad one out of the way. I have 36 holes to make ground up on Henrik. I can't let him get too far ahead tomorrow.”
Scotland’s Richie Ramsay (69) and England’s Danny Willett (67) are tied with McIlroy in joint second on 136.
Five players are a stroke further back, including Lowry (71), who bolstered a difficult round with a hole-in-one at the 187-yard par-three 13th, and Spain’s Rafael Cabrera-Bello (64).
The Spaniard made seven birdies in the first 10 holes before successive bogeys at 11 and 12 blunted his charge, but an eagle 14th and a birdie on 17 added a final gloss to what was the lowest score of this year’s event.
“I played really good and it looked simple,” the 30-year-old told reporters. “I know there are also very tricky holes out there. I got a couple bogeys myself, too, just blinking, really, so you have to be very careful.”
(Editing by Ed Osmond)