South African duo Branden Grace and George Coetzee shared the second-round lead with Austria No. 1 Bernd Wiesberger at the top of a crowded leaderboard after the second round of the US$2.5 million Commercial Bank Qatar Masters.
Grace carded a 68 in afternoon to move to nine-under-par and finish level with Coetzee (67) and Wiesberger (66), who both played in the same group in the morning when they dominated a Doha Golf Club layout missing the wind that provides its main defence.
Scotland’s Marc Warren shot the day’s low round of 65 to move to eight-under and share fourth with Korean youngster An Byeong-hun and Emiliano Grillo of Argentina, who both shot 69.
Sergio Garcia surged into contention as a second straight 69 put the 11-time European Tour winner in a large group sharing 10th spot at six-under, one ahead of playing partner Ernie Els (72), the 2005 champion. World No. 2 Henrik Stenson (71), the third member of the morning’s all-star group, carded a 71 to lie three-under.
Grace, 26, won his fifth European Tour title at last month’s Alfred Dunhill Championship in South Africa and put himself in the running for a sixth with a solid round of five birdies and one bogey. Grace, who opened with a 67, moved to nine-under with his fourth birdie of the day at 12 before bouncing back from from a bogey on 14 with a birdie on 16.
“It was good to start the way I did, three‑under for the first nine holes, and I really wanted to push on the back nine. I got a little unlucky with a couple of putts, missed a three‑footer on the 10th and didn't really make anything after that. If you look at the scores of some of the other guys, the back nine is the nine to score on and I didn't do that today,” Grace said.
“Still, I’m close to the top, so still in a good position for the weekend. Tied in the lead is a good place to be at the halfway stage of the tournament, so I'll take it and push on from here. The scoring has been good, so I think we are in for a good weekend.”
Grace, like Coetzee, is seeking to become the fourth South African winner of the tournament, following Darren Fichardt (2003), Ernie Els (2005) and Retief Goosen (2007), and explained why he thinks his countrymen usually perform well in Doha.
“I think we've got the good weather over the Christmas period of time,” Grace said. “We take a break and then we start grinding, and I think when we head into the desert swing we are pretty much prepared. I think that's shown over the last couple years and it's shown again this week. The guys are really performing. We are playing well and let's see if we can get a South African winner.”
Coetzee and Wiesberger teed off on hole 10 in a group with Englishman James Morrison (70), who was among those at six-under, although it was his playing partners who stole the show.
Coetzee, 28, showed his love for the course, where he finished joint runner-up to Chris Wood in Doha two years ago after the Englishman eagled the final hole.
“I just like the vibe and the way the course gels into the land they have it on. It's just a fun golf course,” said Coetzee, who won his first European Tour title at last February’s Joburg Open.
“I just want to be in the mix come Sunday. I'm playing well. My swing is coming along and I’m putting pretty nicely. I’ve just got to wait for my birdies, not force it and play the golf course like I know it.”
Wiesberger, 29, picked up a shot on his opening hole before firing four straight birdies from 13 to 16 and picking up two more on the front nine, offset by a bogey on seven.
“I played nicely out there today. I had a lot of birdies on my first nine. I got the putter going and drove it beautifully, only missing the last fairway on the fringe,” said Wiesberger, who finished sixth in Abu Dhabi last week.
“I only missed one green, where I hit the flag, so the long game was steady. However, the short irons down the stretch – four, five, six, seven – weren't particularly good. I couldn't get deeper into the 60s, but it was still a very good round.”
Wiesberger said his form in Abu Dhabi and Doha signals that he’s recovering the form that earned him two European Tour titles in 2012.
“I feel comfortable. I haven't really expected it going into these two weeks, especially because I played quite poorly last year, so it gives me great confidence if I keep on doing what I'm doing. I think I've worked on the right things the last couple of weeks and it shows.”