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McIlroy forces the pace in the desert


Northern Ireland's US Open champion Rory McIlroy justified his position as favourite to win the Dubai Desert Classic by adding a 65 to his first-round 66 to reach 13 under par yesterday. But the 40-year-old Dane Thomas Bjorn has matched him shot for shot and Martin Kaymer had the first hole-in-one of his life, on the seventh (his 16th) as he reached 11 under with a 67. Lee Westwood's 65 for 10 under included birdies on the last three holes.

“They are people capable of amazing things, but I won in Switzerland with those three on the leader board and that's not long ago,” Bjorn said. “It's very easy to get impressed by the way they play the game, but you've got to go out and focus on your own game.”

McIlroy is back at the scene of his first professional victory, three years ago, and in his last eight events he has only once finished outside the top four. The 22-year-old overtook the first-round leader, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, by covering the back nine in a four-under 33, chipping in at the 359-yard 17th. For the second day running, he then missed an eagle chance of under 10 feet on the 18th, but after failing to hole a five-foot birdie chance on the first he then picked up more strokes on the third, sixth and eighth.

“I feel like I played a lot better,” McIlroy said. “I started off very solidly and just kept picking up birdies along the way. I'm a lot more confident off the tee and am reading the greens better. It puts me in a great position and I'm very excited for the weekend.”

In California, Tiger Woods was betrayed by his putter as he carded a second successive 68 at the AT&T National Pro-Am to finish yesterday's second round six strokes off the early lead.

On his first appearance in America this year, Woods mixed four birdies with two bogeys on the Monterey Peninsula Shore Course, the easiest of the three venues being used this week. He ended the day at six-under 130, six behind pacesetting South Korean Charlie Wi.