Lee Westwood leads the Dubai World Championship after late errors from Rory McIlroy and Padraig Harrington

Half-time in the Dubai World Championship sees Englishman Lee Westwood reaping a useful reward for breaking the habit of a lifetime.

An inveterate scoreboard-watcher his entire career, he has been banned from doing so this week by his caddy Billy Foster. Only when he had finished off with a birdie did he look up at the giant leaderboard beside the 18th green, and he liked what he saw.

A second round of 69 gave him a two-shot lead in this final event to see who will be crowned the inaugural winner of the Race to Dubai.

In two classy rounds, Westwood has gone from pursuer to pursued, for Rory McIlroy will now have to hunt him down over the weekend if he is to maintain his position at the top of the renamed Order of Merit.

England's Lee Westwood

Back in charge: Lee Westwood

It says everything about what a stirring race to the finish it has become that McIlroy, to this point, has done all that could be reasonably asked of a 20-year-old, compiling
rounds of 68 and 69 to be joint second, and yet he will still have to find something more.

‘It is really impressive to see what they are doing when you think of the pressure they’re under,’ said Padraig Harrington and, as a triple major champion, he should know. ‘When you’re under the radar, like me this week, it’s so much easier to play well.’

Harrington did his best to come out from under the radar with another extraordinary water escapade at the last.

He lost three shots on Westwood when he put two balls in the drink to run up a double-bogey seven on this striking par-five and fall back into a tie with McIlroy. What is it with Harrington and water hazards?

Think of the Bridgestone Invitational and the U.S. PGA Championship when he lost both because of hitting balls into the water. He must have incurred more penalty strokes in this fashion in the past four months than every other player in the world’s top 20 combined. The Irishman is just one of a number of players on a crowded leaderboard with a chance to win this event.

Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy

Putting problems: Rory McIlroy

For Westwood and McIlroy, though, the stakes are far greater, as they seek to claim the vast bonus that goes to the winner of the Order of Merit. Win this and one of them will walk away with a staggering combined cheque for £1.65million tomorrow.

The odds favour Westwood, with his experience, but it is too close to call. For all the brilliant golf on show, no telling blows have been struck, so this thrilling duel continues in what is shaping up to be one of the best weeks of the year.

That said, it did look as if McIlroy would make a definitive statement when he turned in an all but perfect outward half. Two birdies to start, an eagle at the seventh, followed by another birdie at the ninth, took him out in 31.

Not that he would have known it then, but Westwood’s two-shot first-round lead had turned into a two-stroke deficit. Over the back nine, alas, McIlroy’s one weakness made an untimely appearance, as he missed short putts to bogey the 14th and the 15th. Given that they were more like birdie holes, it took the momentum from his round.

Had playing with irritating Swede Johan Edfors worn him down by this stage? Naturally, McIlroy wasn’t remotely interested in using it as an excuse. But how difficult it must be when you just stand up to the ball and hit it to be partnered with an interminable, ungainly fidget. As one clever wit put it: ‘Edfors looks like Jesus and plays like Mary.’

McIlroy, however, was more intent on looking forward rather than back at what might have been. ‘I’ve got to think about what a great position I’m still in rather than worrying about lost opportunities,’ he said.

‘It’s up to me to keep playing well and go out and win it. I know no-one is going to hand it to me.’

Certainly, it is hard to imagine the frontman doing so. ‘I enjoy times like this,’ said Westwood, and it looked so.



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