Golf: Karlsson shows his class to lead Els

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AS FINE a performance as Ernie Els' nine-under-par 63 was, around only two strokes outside the South African's own Emirates course record, it was not the only extraordinary display in the second round of the Dubai Desert Classic.

Robert Karlsson, the gangling Swede, maintained his lead despite Els overtaking him at the top of the leader board in the morning, with a 65 which included two eagles.

This was the first time that Karlsson, who has won twice on tour, has achieved such a feat in a competitive round and he is right in saying that if he continues in similar vein over the weekend, he will be hard to beat, whatever the quality of the opposition. Els and Ignacio Garrido are three behind the Swede's 13-under half-way total, with Greg Norman four adrift.

More amazing was Jose-Maria Olazabal being among those five back on eight under.

Olazabal is suffering from flu and a throat infection and it did not need a medical expert to advise him not to tee off with a temperature of 102 degrees on Thursday.

The fact that he was wearing a sweater in what was definitely shirt-sleeve weather yesterday told how the Spaniard was suffering. He has done little else but take antibiotics and refuge in his bed, so rounds of 69 and 67 was some performance.

Then there was Seve Ballesteros' reaction to his slow-play warning. At the time, he seemed to be his usual furious self, but later he stuck to his word of not seeking controversy. "I said I won't complain because complaining does not get you anywhere," he said. "Not on the European Tour. If the referee says I was slow maybe he was right." Gaping mouths all around.

The difference between Els' round and his previous record effort, in 1994 when he also won the tournament, was the two extra putts he needed. Having finished in the top three in his last four events, the South African is making the running at the top of the European money list.

More high finishes here and at the Volvo PGA championship could see him re-evaluate his schedule to try and break Colin Montgomerie's five year hold on the money title.

"I am really happy I made the decision to play in these tournaments," he said "rather than in America. They have had awful weather on the West Coast and when I played in San Diego it was the worst conditions I have played in so far."

Norman, runner-up to Els here in '94, joined the discussion about whether Els or Tiger Woods will prove the stronger performer in the long run and he plumped for Els, just. "It's going to be very interesting seeing the two battle it out," said the Shark. "Ernie's got a few more years under his belt and has great control of the flight of his ball, whereas Tiger can struggle sometimes in the wind."

DUBAI DESERT CLASSIC (Emirates Club) Leading second-round scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 131 R Karlsson (Swe) 66 65. 134 I Garrido (Sp) 67 67; E Els (SA) 71 63. 135 G Norman (Aus) 67 68. 136 M Mouland 69 67; J M Olazabal (Sp) 69 67; P-U Johansson (Swe) 69 67; D Clarke 68 68; S Ballesteros (Sp) 68 68. 137 P Hedblom (Swe) 69 68; R Wessels (SA) 68 69; A Oldcorn 71 66; S Allan (Aus) 67 70; I Woosnam 68 69. 138 T Sriroj (Thai) 68 70; A Cabrera (Arg) 70 68; L Westwood 69 69; G Evans (GB) 72 66; A Hunter 69 69; J Coceres (Arg) 71 67. 139 M A Martin (Sp) 68 71; A Forsbrand (Swe) 69 70; A Wall 71 68; P Price 68 71; E Romero (Arg) 72 67; C Montgomerie 70 69; P Baker 69 70; R Muntz (Neth) 69 70.

l Laura Davies stormed back into contention in the Australian Ladies Masters yesterday by equalling the course record of 65 in Gold Coast, Queensland. Davies had a seven-under par second round to lie eight shots off the leader, America's Cindy Schreyer.