HE UNITED ARAB EMIRATES — DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — At the DP World Tour Championship, Collin Morikawa had a lucky break.
Rory McIlroy felt he didn’t have any luck.
The European Tour’s season-ending event’s second round drama was saved for the final hour on Friday at Jumeirah Golf Estates, and the tournament’s two headline players were at the center of it.
“Get in the bunker,” Morikawa said as he pushed his tee shot at the par-3 17th hole, hoping to become the first American to win the Race to Dubai. Instead, the ball bounced on a downslope in the rough, heading toward water before hitting a hazard post and staying dry.
The Open winner produced a second straight 4-under 68 with an up-and-down for par and a final-hole birdie, putting him three strokes off the lead and in a solid position to finish the season as European No. 1.
“Those are the kinds of pauses you need as the weekend approaches,” Morikawa added.
McIlroy, who led after the first round after a 65, had a one-stroke lead on the 18th tee despite hitting only five of 13 fairways up to that point. His third shot kicked left short of the green and dribbled into the water after he drove left into a bunker.
With a double-bogey 7, he fell out of the lead, which was shared by Shane Lowry (65), John Catlin (65), and Sam Horsfield (66) on 10 under par.
“That section of the fairway where the ball was was just kind of thatchy and came up spinny in the wind,” McIlroy explained.
“I felt like I didn’t deserve to be in the water after hitting a nice golf shot.”
Following his victory at THE CJ CUP AT SUMMIT on the PGA TOUR last month, McIlroy will play with Morikawa in the third round as he seeks back-to-back victories.
A win isn’t required for Morikawa to have a successful week in Dubai. He was ranked No. 1 in the Race to Dubai rankings coming into the tournament, just ahead of compatriot Billy Horschel, who is just even par after rounds of 74 and 70.
To vault into first place, Horschel needs to win or hope Morikawa finishes deep down the 52-man field. Neither of these options appears to be viable.
Only Tyrrell Hatton, Min Woo Lee, Paul Casey, and Matt Fitzpatrick have a chance to catch Morikawa, and they’ll need to win on the Earth Course. Casey and Fitzpatrick are in the best position to make a weekend charge after shooting rounds of 69 to finish 5 under par overall and five strokes behind the leader.
Morikawa, like McIlroy, struggled off the tee and admitted that he didn’t hit his irons well, which is unusual for a guy regarded as the top iron player on the PGA TOUR.
He birdied four of his first seven holes, starting with a chip in from just off the green at No. 1, but he looked frustrated after making five straight pars around the turn and then missing a 10-foot par putt at No. 13 to fall four strokes behind the leader.
Two of his greatest shots of the day came in the final two holes, with a pitch to nine feet from near the water on No. 17 allowing him to save par, and his third shot on the par-5 18th landing inside three feet.
When comparing his second round to his first, Morikawa remarked, “I wasn’t hitting (the same) quality of golf shots,” but “was able to score some birdies and kind of minimize the bogeys.”
McIlroy maintained his lead over the front nine, but after missing a 6-foot par putt at No. 10, he fell behind Lowry, Catlin, and Horsfield.
He answered by chipping in from the fringe on the 11th hole and regaining the lead on the 16th hole with a birdie putt from 16 feet.
Everything went awry down the stretch, though, as he chose to play driver, a club with which he struggled all day.
“It wasn’t the best way to finish,” he admitted, “and I was just sort of holding it together for the majority of the day.” “It would have been wonderful to finish a little stronger, but I’m still in the race.”
Lowry played a bogey-free round on the back nine, making three birdies and a chip-in eagle in a five-hole stretch starting at No. 11.
The 2019 Open champion will play Catlin, the 129th-ranked American, in the final group.
“There are only two more days before the end of a long year and a half,” Lowry added.
“This weekend, I’m looking forward to giving it my all and leaving it all on the course.”