DUBAI (AFP) - Rory McIlroy shrugged off a wayward start to his second round at the US$2.5 million (S$3.2 million) Dubai Desert Classic on Friday to move further clear of the field.
A nine-under 63 had given the 24-year-old Ulsterman a two-stroke overnight advantage and the early starters failed to knock him off his perch as he sat back to wait on his early afternoon tee-time.
Englishman Danny Willett was the first to make a charge with six birdies down the back nine after starting his round at the 10th.
A bogey at the fifth was the only blemish on his card of 65, and he reached the halfway stage of the European Tour event at eight under.
Italian Ryder Cup player Edoardo Molinari, solo second overnight on 65, was next to challenge McIlroy and he even drew level with a birdie at the 10th, but he followed that with a bogey at the next hole.
Australian Scott Hend then fired three straight birdies from the second on his back nine to get to nine under and level with McIlroy, who was just teeing off at the first.
But he then crashed with a triple bogey seven at the next.
Irishman Damien McGrane also got to eight under after firing a second round of 70, but no-one was able to dislodge the world number six from the top of the leaderboard.
For a brief moment it looked like McIlroy would do that all by himself with three wayward drives to start his second round.
He dropped one at the first, but scrambled to save par at the second, and a superb bunker shot at the par-five third gave him a birdie as he got back to nine under.
Watched by wife-to-be, tennis player Caroline Wozniacki, McIroy then birdied the fifth and the seventh to increase his lead at the top to three shots.
Playing partner, world number one Tiger Woods, picked one up at the third but he had his first bogey of the week at the sixth, watching a 10-footer slip past the hole. He stayed at four under.
The third member of the group, defending champion Stephen Gallacher of Scotland, stayed well in contention at eight under, with birdies at the second and fourth.
European number one Henrik Stenson moved ominously up the leaderboard as he recovered from a horror start to Thursday's opening round when he was three over after just five holes.
The big Swede had five birdies for a 67 that hoisted him up the leaderboard at seven under.
Three-time former winner Ernie Els was also in better nick with a 70, but at level par for the tournament, the South African was just outside the projected cut mark at that stage of the day.
There was an anxious wait ahead too for Javier, the son of the legendary Seve Ballesteros, as he finished at one over after carding a 71.
Javier was playing in his first top-tier European Tour tournament, having accepted an invitation to represent his father, a former champion in Dubai, as part of the Desert Classic's 25th anniversary celebrations.