Spain’s Rafael Cabrera-Bello shot a second-round 65 on Thursday afternoon to take a two-shot lead at the halfway stage of the US$2.5 million Commercial Bank Qatar Masters, where two-time major winner John Daly is the highest placed among the marquee names.
Cabrera-Bello, a two-time European Tour winner, birdied five of the last seven holes including at the par-five 18th to move to 13-under, two clear of first-round leader George Coetzee of South Africa, who posted an early target of 11-under with a 69.
Swede Johan Carlsson (65) and English duo Matthew Baldwin (66) and Steve Webster (69) share third at 10-under at Doha Golf Club.
Daly’s love affair with the Championship Course continued as the 47-year-old American, again sporting eye-catching trousers, shot a bogey-free 69 for a share of 10th place at eight-under with five others including Sweden’s Peter Hanson (67), a two-time Ryder Cup winner.
Among other marquee names, World No. 11 Sergio Garcia shot 67 to move to six-under, one ahead of World No. 3 Henrik Stenson (71) and two clear of former World No. 1 Martin Kaymer (70).
Luke Donald, another former World No. 1, fired four birdies on the back nine to card a 69 and move to three-under, level with playing partner Jason Dufner (71), the 2013 PGA Championship winner. Four-time major winner Ernie Els fell back with a 76 and just made the cut at one-under.
Cabrera-Bello opened with a solid 66 on Wednesday and the 29-year-old continued his form on Thursday afternoon with eight birdies, recording his only bogey in 36 holes at the sixth. A native of the Canary Islands, the smiling Spaniard hopes 13-under proves a lucky omen ahead of the final two rounds.
“I don't think 13 is an unlucky number for me around this course. I'm really happy, really pleased, and everything's going good. I'm enjoying myself,” said Cabrera-Bello, who won his second European Tour title in Dubai two years ago and finished fourth in Abu Dhabi last week.
“It definitely feels like home around here. I like playing in short sleeves a lot, I like a little bit of breeze, I like seeing palm trees and I like seeing sun around the course. It does remind me a lot of the Canaries. When I start playing the year here, I don't feel I've left home, so that's why I enjoy it so much.”
Cabrera-Bello is now aiming to maintain the same routine he has employed successfully on the first two days.
“I do my normal routine. Tomorrow is a new day, so we start from scratch, play one shot at a time and just go out there and keep enjoying myself. I've been doing it for this week and last week a lot, so I’ll just enjoy the opportunity of being up there, being in contention, just savour that and try to perform as good as I know I can.”
Coetzee, joint runner-up with Sergio Garcia last year, teed off on 10 and started with a birdie and a double bogey, before recording birdie-bogey-birdie from 14. He repeated the birdie-bogey-birdie sequence from the second hole and then picked up shots at six and seven to post the clubhouse lead at 11-under.
“I just told myself to make some putts and luckily I did. I felt quite good. I just had a bit of trouble on the 11th, my second hole, but otherwise I played pretty nicely. There were some bogeys out there, but definitely some birdies, too,” said Coetzee, who is bidding for his first European Tour title.
“I enjoy this place, so obviously I'll be trying to do one better than last year, and just keep doing what I'm doing and make some putts.”
One of three South Africans in the top, Coetzee believes it’s more the great weather than the many events back home at this time of year that’s fuelling their form.
“I guess most of us probably took Christmas off and didn’t touch any golf clubs, but we’re all eager to play. We've all spent our time in the sun at home on the beaches, so we’re all quite happy and enjoying life.”
Webster made headlines after starting Wednesday’s opening round with an albatross on the 10th and followed up on Thursday morning with an up-and-down card marked by six birdies and three bogeys.
“I didn’t drive it great, didn’t hit my irons great, but I chipped and putted nicely, and that’s why I got it round in 69,” said Webster, whose fondness for the Championship Course was reflected by a fourth-place finish last year.
“It’s one of those courses that suits my eye. I can see a lot of birdies out there if I can drive it well. That sets the chances and the greens are rolling great, so I see a low round out there.”
Webster, who turned 39 last Friday, believes he’s due another trophy after finishing runner-up five times on The European Tour since winning his second title in 2007.
“I have to take my chances at this game. I had two seconds last year so I’ve got to get over the finish line. I’m feeling great and my game’s in good shape. I’m all good and ready to go.”
Daly stayed close to the leaders as the colourful 47-year-old also continues his affinity with the 7,400-yard layout. Two years ago, the American finished fourth on his Commercial Bank Qatar Masters debut, which remains his best result on The European Tour since finishing runner-up at the 2009 Italian Open.
“I just putted really, really good today. I started off putting really, really well this year and I keep putting good,” said Daly, who teed off on 10 and recorded birdies on 16, one and three.
“The putter saved me today. I got in some trouble with the driver a couple of times, kept hitting it left, but just managed to make a couple of pars with the putter and save a couple with it. I've just got to hit more fairways and hope I just keep putting the way I'm putting.”
Daly appears to be enjoying his second visit to Doha Golf Club, which hosts the second leg of The European Tour’s three-part ‘Desert Swing’.
“I like it here. It reminds me a little bit of Palm Springs. The people are very nice and everything's so clean. It's just a great place to come to,” said Daly, famous for his wins in the 1991 PGA Championship and 1995 Open Championship.
“I love coming over here. I've always loved coming overseas. I've always enjoyed playing with the European guys and they have always been really, really nice to me over here. That makes you feel good and I'll return the favour when they come to the States. Right now, the age that I'm at, 47, to play on either tour for the next two and a half years would be great.”
The 2014 Commercial Bank Qatar Masters runs from Wednesday 22 January to Saturday 25 January. Evening entertainment begins from 6pm on Thursday and Friday. Both single-day and season tickets include entry to the concerts, which include American performers Divas of Soul on Thursday and Scottish band Texas on Friday.
Season tickets provide exceptional value, offering access to all four days of golf action, the public village and all evening entertainment for just QAR325, more than 40% less than four single-day tickets.
Single-day and season tickets for the2014 Commercial Bank Qatar Masters are available to purchase online at www.virginmegastore.me and in-store from Virgin Megastore shops in Villagio Mall and Landmark Mall, Doha, as well as Doha Golf Club.
Entry is free for children under 15 years of age. For those looking for an extra-special experience, a range of popular corporate hospitality packages are available. For more information visit the tournament’s official website, www.qatar-masters.com.
United Through Golf website:www.unitedthroughgolf.com