Jimenez hits the front as Montgomerie battles on

Miguel Angel Jimenez, 279th in the world 20 months ago and now 16th, continued his remarkable return to form yesterday.

Miguel Angel Jimenez, 279th in the world 20 months ago and now 16th, continued his remarkable return to form yesterday.

A second-round 65 in the Dubai Desert Classic took the 41-year-old Spaniard from one behind Ernie Els to two in front at the halfway stage. The Welshman Stephen Dodd, winner of the China Open in November, lies third - and in joint fourth are Thomas Bjorn, the South African James Kingston and Colin Montgomerie.

The latter will return to the world's top 50 with a first- or second-place finish, and that would put him in line for a late call-up to next month's Masters at Augusta. At the moment, though, he does not know whether he will be playing in Asia or the United States at the end of this month.

"God knows what my plans are but that's my life, I suppose, on tour," the 41-year-old said. "We take it as it comes."

Ranked 63 at the start of this week, Montgomerie needs to get back into the top 50 to qualify for the Players Championship at Sawgrass from 24 March. Should he fail, he will play in the European Tour-sanctioned Indonesian Open that week.

"I know what I have to do," said the seven-times European No 1, who also needs a top-50 ranking by 28 March to book his Masters place. "I've moved up 20 spots already [this year], so we need another 13 and we'll get there. So I have to try and do well here and then I'm off to the TCL Classic in China to try and do well again.

"But my first goal is the TPC. I've got two tournaments to get into the top 50, and that means at least winning the next one or two." The TCL Classic will be played at Yalong Bay Golf Club on Hainan Island.

Els has yet to have a bogey all week. But by adding only four birdies to his pace-setting 66, he gave a chance to his closest pursuers - and Jimenez took it. The Malaga golfer rolled in eight birdie putts, before a drive into the rough on his closing hole led to a bogey and a 12-under-par total of 132.

"I am like the good wines, you know," said Jimenez. "With age, getting better."

Jimenez's career nose-dived when he took up the chance to play on the US Tour in 2001. He finished 160th on the money list the following season. Since he was not enjoying the lifestyle, it was no hardship to come back.

"The golf is very nice, but I don't find myself comfortable there," he said. "I have my kids and I want them to be around Spanish culture."

A month after his 50th birthday, Montgomerie's playing partner, Greg Norman, had to withdraw because of a bad back. The Australian had problems during his first-round 74, and after treatment his back went into spasm again on the practice range. He hopes to return for The Players Championship.

The defending champion, Mark O'Meara, missed the cut on one over after failing to birdie the par-five last, but the new Ryder Cup captain, Ian Woosnam made it through on one under.

* Britain's Brian Davis continued to impress in his rookie season on the USPGA Tour in the Ford Championship in Florida. The 30-year-old Briton shot an eight-under 64 to tie for the lead with Phil Mickelson, Jose Maria Olazabal and Marco Dawson. Tiger Woods was one behind.

Dubai Desert Classic (Dubai; UAE) Leading second round scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 132 M A Jimenez (Sp) 67 65. 134 E Els (SA) 66 68. 135 S Dodd 70 65. 137 J Kingston (SA) 69 68; T Bjorn (Den) 69 68; C Montgomerie 70 67. 138 T Taniguchi (Japan) 70 68; L Westwood 70 68; D Howell 67 71; N Fasth (Swe) 72 66; P Fowler (Aus) 69 69; P Sheehan (Aus) 70 68; B Dredge 70 68; J Donaldson 70 68; G Havret (Fr) 70 68; P Archer 72 66; J Lyle (Aus) 68 70. 139 N Dougherty 69 70; S Osborne 68 71; C Schwartzel (SA) 69 70; R Karlsson (Swe) 69 70; I Garbutt 72 67. Selected: 141 B Curtis (US) 70 71; S Lyle 71 70. 143 I Woosnam 74 69.

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