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.

News
people
Life and Style
healthMovember isn't about a moustache trend, it saves lives
News
people
Life and Style
food + drinkFrom Mediterranean Tomato Tart to Raw Caramel Peanut Pie
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Armstrong, left, and Bain's writing credits include Peep Show, Fresh Meat, and The Old Guys
TVThe pair have presented their view of 21st-century foibles in shows such as Peep Show and Fresh Meat
Arts and Entertainment
Keys to success: Andrew and Julian Lloyd Webber
arts + entsMrs Bach had too many kids to write the great man's music, says Julian Lloyd Webber
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Extras
Boys to men: there’s nothing wrong with traditional ‘manly’ things, until masculinity is used to exclude people
indybest13 best grooming essentials
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films
books

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site on Friday

News
Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’
news

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch at the premiere of The Imitation Game at the BFI London Film Festival
filmsKeira Knightley tried to miss The Imitation Game premiere to watch Bake Off
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

Bryan Adams' heartstopping images of wounded British soldiers to go on show at Somerset House

Bryan Adams' images of wounded soldiers

Taken over the course of four years, Adams' portraits are an astonishing document of the aftermath of war
The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities