Matt Wallace is seeking his fourth win of a remarkable season as he recorded a bogey-free round of 65 to take a one-shot lead into the weekend at the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai – the eighth and final Rolex Series event of 2018.
The Englishman, who admitted he is playing with more freedom this week after putting too much pressure on himself recently, got off to a fast start in his bid to secure his first Rolex Series title, birdieing the first two holes on the way to a round of seven under par for the day and a total of 11 under.
A victory on Sunday would make Wallace the 14th player to win four times or more in a European Tour season and the first since Alex Noren in 2016, but he has an elite pack close behind him at Jumeirah Golf Estates.
The 2016 Masters Tournament winner Danny Willett fired a 67 to reach ten under par alongside fellow Englishman Jordan Smith and Adrian Otaegui of Spain. Reigning Masters Champion Patrick Reed of the United States is one shot further back after a bogey-free round of 66.
In the battle to be crowned Europe’s Number One, England’s Tommy Fleetwood needs a win to have a chance of successfully defending his Race to Dubai title and he is currently three shots off the lead at eight under par, alongside three-time Race to Dubai winner Rory McIlroy, Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Dean Burmester of South Africa.
Defending champion Jon Rahm and Swedish pair Henrik Stenson and Alexander Björk are then at seven under par.
To seal back-to-back Race to Dubai titles Fleetwood also needs Italy’s Francesco Molinari to finish outside of the top five, with a 73 leaving the Open Champion eight shots off the lead.
Matt Wallace: “That’s up there with one of the best this year. With it being in round two, as well, it’s nice. Haven’t done that much this year, improving on the first round. I seem to play really nice the first day and just go backward. That was nice today and hopefully more on the weekend.
“I’ve got rid of all the expectations that have come with playing well and winning; I’ve expected higher from myself and that’s just killed me. So I’m playing with freedom now and trying to place as high as I possibly can come to the back nine holes on Sunday and then that’s when I normally will try and kick in and want to win a tournament, depending on where I am. Last week was the best week I’ve had mentally because I’ve had no expectations and I finished fifth. That’s nice.”
Adrian Otaegui: “I missed the first tee shot and made a bogey on the first but then I’ve been able to save par on the second and third and from the fourth, I played really good golf and gave myself more birdie chances, and again, conditions were quite tough at the end with the wind picking up, so 4-under is a good round for the second round. I’ve been trying to do my best and trying to be focused on myself and I think I did well today. I just tried to play my own game, go hole after hole, shot after shot, and then we’ll see how it was at the end. So I managed to be patient and to do that today.”
Danny Willett: “You kind of saw the scoring from this morning, you knew the scoring is pretty low, so you knew there was obviously going to be a few chances out there. Four nice ones in a row to the turn and then a made a silly bogey down 10 and then bounced back nicely again on the last eight holes. It was a little bit up-and-down in there but all in all another 67 was a really solid day.
“I’ve said it all year, really, since everything has been good. It’s nice to be back seeing the lads. It’s nice to be back in contention, playing good golf and moving well and actually enjoying the game that you took up many years ago because you loved it. Yeah, really in a nice place.”
Jordan Smith: “Not a great start but in the middle of the round I hit some awesome iron shots to a couple of feet. Putter didn’t quite work as well as it did yesterday but I’m happy with 4-under today. It’s a new situation for me in this tournament. Yeah, go and enjoy it like I have the last couple days and see what happens.”
Patrick Reed: “It was a good round. I mean, I went out, I stayed patient, and I think that was the key is staying patient around this golf course because once you start hitting the ball well, and you get the putter rolling a little bit, you can make birdies in bunches out here.
“It’s always fun to play with Rory. He’s a great guy. He’s a great competitor. It’s always fun going out and playing with him. I enjoy it and it’s one of those things, I feel like we always seem to play pretty well when we’re playing with each other. I think we just kind of feed off each other and go out and try to shoot low numbers for the crowds.”
Rory McIlroy: “I have to be pleased. It’s a massive improvement considering the golf I’ve played the last couple of weeks. So to shoot two scores in the 60s is great. I feel like today was even an improvement on yesterday. I missed a few putts that I felt just slid by the hole. I hit good putts that just didn’t go in, and there’s always something about playing with Patrick that seems to bring the best out of him, and I seem to play pretty well, too. It was a good round of golf. Would have been nice to make a birdie at the last, but I’m right there at the end of the day.”
Tommy Fleetwood: “It was a completely different day ball-striking-wise. Yesterday I couldn’t have got any more out of that round of golf, and it felt amazing to just get off and I felt like I kind of stole a couple of shots. Today, in a strange kind of way, you know, you can easily look back at shots that I might have — that I could have done better, but I did so many good things. I will very gladly take that today but ball-striking today was a completely different day to yesterday.
“Every shot seems very important. It’s just a completely different feeling to any other week of the year. They are experiences that you have to have and that you want, but yeah, every shot just like a little bit more heightened. All your senses are a little bit heightened and every shot means that little bit more because it all comes down to this. And again, from a tournament perspective, 72 holes is a long time but it’s a very short period of time that we’ve got left now in the grand scheme of the year.”