Dubai Desert Classic 2014: Rory McIlroy retains lead as Tiger Woods stumbles

Warren Little

Rory McIlroy is not his sizzling first-round self Friday in the Emirates, but he still leads the field while erstwhile playing partner Tiger Woods plummets down the leaderboard.

Rory McIlroy, at the top of the leaderboard in Dubai, will go head-to-head with an American again in the third round, but it won’t be Tiger Woods.

McIlroy was unable to recreate the brilliance of his opening-round 63 at the Dubai Desert Classic, but a round of 2-under 70 put him one shot clear of Florida-born Brooks Koepka and eight ahead of Woods, who stumbled to a 73 and enters the weekend tied for 44th.

"It was a round that could have been much better but  still shooting a couple under par and finishing with a nice birdie the way I did, I still have to realize that I’m in the lead of this golf tournament even though it wasn’t quite as good as yesterday," he told reporters.

Tiger’s playing partner for the first two days rebounded from a bogey-5 on his first hole with three birdies on his front nine. He was only able to record an incoming even-par 37, matching a pair of birdies with two bogeys, to maintain by the slimmest of margins his advantage over the advancing pack of players.

McIlroy rued his inability to pad his lead and seemed to give himself a pep talk after birdies on only two of three par-5s (Nos. 10 and 18) on the back nine and a bogey on the 13th.

"You’ve got two par 5s coming up and a couple of holes where you have wedges in your hand. It was frustrating to miss that little putt on 13 and then not take advantage of the 17th playing short, making par there," McIlroy said. "It looked for a while that I could have built a three- or four-shot lead but one will have to do and I’m still in the lead of this golf tournament so it’s not all bad."

Koepka, the winner of four Challenge Tour events, fired a flawless 65 to go with his opening 69 and sits ready to pounce should McIlroy scuffle again, as he did to kick off his day. A pulled tee shot to start led to a three-putt and the decision to go for it on the 351-yard, par-4 second as Woods and the third member of the elite trio, defending champion Stephen Gallacher laid up with long irons.

McIlroy saved his par and went on to play a middling round that was just good enough to stave off Koepka, who went out in even but made the turn with three straight birdies.

Henrik Stenson, who missed the cut at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship earlier this month and finished T28 at last week’s Qatar Masters, was also in the mix heading to the weekend.

The reigning FedExCup and Race to Dubai champion dropped no shots on his way to a second-round 67 and a T6 logjam at 7-under that included Gallacher. Not bad for the European Tour’s Player of the Year, who got off to a 3-over start on Thursday thanks to three bogeys in his first five holes.

"I think there is still a little way to go but today was the best I have putted for a long, long time," Stenson told reporters. "I was threatening on every putt and kept the score together with no bogeys, which is always a good sign."

As for Woods, who missed the 54-hole cut Saturday at Torrey Pines, his stat line pretty much told the story of a round gone awry.

Quite a difference from the 25 putts he needed on Thursday, after making a mess of the greens at Torrey.

Tiger's three-putt on No. 6 was his first bogey of the week. Unfortunately, he tacked on two more to go with only two birdies and finished two shots north of the projected cut line.

Quite a difference from the 25 putts he needed on Thursday, after making a mess of the greens at Torrey. His three-putt on No. 6 was Woods’ first bogey of the week.

"I just wasn’t able to get in a position where I can dial it in consistently," Woods told Golf Channel’s Rex Hoggard about his wayward driver. "The hot pull is fine. It’s easy to fix."

A tweak here and a fine-tune there ought to fix his "all aim" driving problems that landed Woods in the desert five times, according to Hoggard.

"I just need to get the game to come around," Woods said. "I need a lot of wind on the weekend and to play two great rounds."

Here's the full leaderboard heading into the weekend.

More from SB Nation Golf:

Rory McIlroy's favored over Tiger Woods in Dubai

Tiger works out too much and is too big, says ex-coach Hank Haney

Tiger puts Torrey flop behind him

Phil Mickelson hopes back allows him to play in Phoenix

Is Tiger's tank job reason to panic? | Reviewing the Torrey implosion

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