South Africa’s Branden Grace continued his fine start to the season as a four-under 68 earned him a share of the lead at the halfway stage of the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters.
The Alfred Dunhill Championship winner carded five birdies during a steady second round, moving him alongside compatriot George Coetzee and Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger on nine under par.
Overnight leader Oliver Fisher slipped to 10th after following up his opening 65 with a one-over 73, while Justin Rose and Stephen Gallacher lost ground on the leaders after disappointing second rounds.
Rose, making his 250th European Tour appearance, was two under for the day before dropping five shots in seven holes, although two late birdies salvaged a 75 which left him six behind the leaders.
Gallacher had returned a confident 68 on his first round of 2015, but he made the cut with nothing to spare on one under after carding four bogeys and a double-bogey seven at the ninth in an error-strewn 75
Coetzee, winless so far on the European Tour, shot a solid 67 in another day of calm conditions at Doha GC, with Wiesberger rattling in four consecutive birdies on his way to a second-round 66.
Wiesberger began in style, picking up five shots over his first seven holes, including four straight gains. His only blemish of the day came at the par-four seventh, but he compensated by ending with a birdie four to cap an excellent day’s work.
“It gives me great confidence,” the Austrian said. “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.
“I haven’t really expected it going into those two weeks, especially because I played quite poorly last year.”
Grace then fared best among the later starters, finding five birdies and making only one mistake at the 14th, although he was denied the outright lead by a stroke of misfortune on the 11th green.
His birdie putt looked destined to find the middle of the cup until his ball clipped the marker of playing-partner Andy Sullivan and deflected wide of the target.
Marc Warren is among the three-man group one shot behind on eight under after the Scot hit an emphatic 65 to lift him into trophy contention.
The 33-year-old’s highlight was an eagle on the par-five first hole, with seven birdies and two bogeys hauling him level with Emiliano Grillo and An Byeong-hun.
Also in the mix were Darren Fichardt, Richard Green and Alejandro Canizares, all on seven under, while defending champion Sergio Garcia also has the leaders in his sights after he signed for a second consecutive 69.
“Taking away a couple of shots, I played probably a little better than yesterday,” Garcia told Sky Sports 4. “I’m still trying to find my way with the putter.
“Overall, I think its not too bad. We’ll need a good weekend to have a chance.”
Tommy Fleetwood bounced back from a disappointing first round by making seven birdies in a bogey-free round of 65, while world No 2 Henrik Stenson hit all 18 greens in regulation only to use 35 putts in frustrating one-under 71.