Dougherty keen to run gauntlet of Weakest Link

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Nick Dougherty's dream of a first head-to-head with Tiger Woods was close to becoming reality after the second round of the HSBC Champions tournament here yesterday. As was David Howell's wish to show Woods that he had learned a lot from their last meeting at the Masters in April.

At the halfway stage of the £2.7m event - the richest ever staged in Asia and opening leg of the new European tour season - the two Englishmen are joint leaders on 12 under par. Woods is two behind and joint third with Australian left-hander Nick O'Hern after another round - this time a 69 - full of thrills and spills for the world No 1.

It ended with a second shot into the lake on the 538-yard 18th and then a 20-foot par-saving putt which hung on the lip before dropping, just like his never-to-be-forgotten chip-in at Augusta seven months ago.

Dougherty, the 23-year-old from Liverpool, finished his 68 just as Woods came to that last hole and willed him to make a birdie by saying: "Come on, Tiger."

After hearing he had gone into the water with his second shot, he joked: "I'm on the range if he needs me." The par meant it was O'Hern who partners the two leaders today.

Whether he plays with Woods in Sunday's final 18 holes or not, the week has given Dougherty further cause to believe he can earn a Ryder Cup debut next September. "I don't think I'm being naive in thinking I've got a really good chance of making that team. I'm obviously desperate to play."

Asked if he liked leading he replied: "Oh yes, I love it. It's a Weakest Link mentality - you laugh at the people at the start when they get voted off, but the real champions are the people who actually get on the show. The fact I'm there, everybody would see me screw up if I did - that's the buzz of it."

Howell is eighth in the cup standings and would view it as real failure if he does not retain his place in the side. The 30-year-old has made huge leaps in his game since partnering Woods in the third round at Augusta. "I played with him in Dubai two years ago and thrashed him by a single shot. Then I played with him in the Masters and he thrashed me by 12 [actually it was 11, 65 to 76], so you can make whatever you want out of that. I had never been near the lead of a Major after two rounds and played like you might expect me to. But I witnessed one of the greatest rounds he's ever played or that's been played in a Major. If I can shoot a decent score [tomorrow] there's no guarantee Tiger can beat that.That's the beauty of golf. You're not really playing against the opponent."

Colin Montgomerie followed his playing partner Woods into the lake on the last, and ran up a double-bogey seven for a 71 and one-over aggregate. England's Kenneth Ferrie bogeyed the last two to slip into tied-fifth place on nine under.

European Tour HSBC Champions tournament (Shanghai, Ch) Leading second-round scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 132 D Howell 65 67; N Dougherty 64 68. 134 N O'Hern (Aus) 67 67; T Woods (US) 65 69. 135 K Ferrie 66 69; P Casey 67 68; T Wiratchant (Thai) 67 68; Zhang Lian-Wei (Ch) 67 68; R-J Derksen (Neth) 65 70. 136 P O'Malley (Aus) 64 72; I Poulter 67 69; T Bjorn (Den) 67 69; V Singh (Fiji) 67 69; KJ Choi (S Kor) 65 71; M Campbell (NZ) 66 70. 137 G McDowell 70 67; J-F Remesy (Fr) 70 67. 138 C Schwartzel (SA) 68 70. 139 A Atwal (Ind) 69 70; P Hanson (Swe) 69 70; Paul Lawrie 64 75; L Westwood 70 69. Selected: 141 P Harrington 69 72. 143 B Lane 73 70; P McGinley 73 70. 145 C Montgomerie 74 71.