Tiger stalks into contention after McIlroy's new maturity pays off

It takes a lot to overshadow Tiger Woods when he is reprising an act once so familiar in sport and slicing through the field with a sizzling 66. But Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia threatened to do just that as the Desert Classic reached halfway here yesterday.

What cheek they both showed to even try to steal the spotlight after Woods, the world No 3, had put his playing partners, the world No 1 and 2, in their place. But when McIlroy is in this form he can turn anybody's eye. And Garcia? When it comes to coming back from a personal crisis even Woods, himself, must call the Spaniard's resurgence heart-warming.

But first to McIlroy, leading the way on 11-under, one ahead of Garcia and four clear of Woods. His 68 yesterday might not have looked so nearly as neat on both the scorecard and the fairway to his first-round 65, but to McIlroy they were incomparable. "This was much the more satisfying," he said, reflecting on how his new attitude allowed him to "dig in and not let it be a 72 or 73". "Maybe this time last year I would not have been able to do that."

McIlroy has gone in for something of a reinvention during the close season. The last straw came at the Chevron World Challenge in December. "If I had just played smart and made some good decisions I would have won that thing easy," said the 21-year-old, with just one win since his maiden title here two years ago. "That's the way it goes sometimes, but I really felt like that for most of last year. I was playing a lot better than the results were reflecting. I adopted this approach at Abu Dhabi [three weeks ago] and it seemed to work pretty well for me."

Basically the tactic is for this most natural of golfing swashbucklers to play conservatively when the hole, conditions and tournament requires it. A perfect example of this was the 18th yesterday, when he declined to take the pin on at the front of the par-five and laid up in front of the lake. He birdied, while most who inevitably found themselves on the back of the putting surface took three to get down.

That happened to Garcia. But he was not about to moan. Not where he's been. This is just his third tournament after a three-month absence he felt obliged to take after falling out of love with the game. Eighteen months ago he was ranked No 2, but after a split with his girlfriend, Greg Norman's daughter, Morgan, his life and career fell apart. He started the year as world No 80, but is already on the rise.

A top-10 placing at Qatar last week was encouraging; this week has been rousing. He is the only player yet to take a bogey, two 67s putting him a tie for second with South Africa's Thomas Aiken. His mood later was strangely surly and pointed to a man not yet at ease with himself, but his presence sets up a fascinating weekend.

Any other year Woods's 66 would have meant one thing. He would chase down McIlroy, preferably treading all over Garcia in the process, and produce the killer blows tomorrow. Post-ridicule we're not so sure. After all, he hasn't won a title for 15 months. No doubt his blemish-free, six-under round did scream at a fallen icon scrambling back up the pedestal but we have been here before all too recently.

Same stage, two weeks ago he was also within four shots at Torrey Pines after an encouraging 69-69 beginning to his seasonal opener. Then, a 74-75 weekend hurtled him down to a tie for 44th. His body language was poor, although yesterday he claimed it was a positive experience. "Actually, it was good I went through that as it identified some of the things we needed to work on," he said. "And last night we worked out a few things I didn't like. Today I went out there and really controlled my trajectory well. Going into the weekend, with the wind that's forecast, that's important."

Woods has every right to feel confident. After a scrappy 71 on Thursday – transformed from over-par misery to under-par mediocrity by an eagle on the last – he was near to faultless yesterday. The crowds were huge, as was his response on a morning where conditions were made for scoring. The pick of his round came at the sixth (his 15th). "That was a well-played hole – to be able to hold up a driver like that and turn an eight iron in there to what, a foot and a half?" he said, before explaining how his work with Sean Foley has made him longer off the tee (when he gets it right, of course). "How much longer? In the air, an easy 10 yards," he claimed.

It was good enough to put him two ahead of Lee Westwood, world No 1, and three clear of Martin Kaymer, No 2. Two personal battles had been won. So many more lie ahead.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project