Dubai: Tiger Woods had the round of the day at the Dubai Desert Classic on Friday, but it was Ulster`s Golden Boy Rory McIlroy who held on to the lead at the halfway stage of the Gulf`s showcase tournament.
Woods produced his best golf of the year for a six under 66 to bound into contention for a first title in 15 months.
He will go into the weekend on seven under par, four strokes shy of McIlroy who added a 68 to his opening blast of 65 to stand at 11 under.
In second place a stroke off the lead is back-to-form Sergio Garcia who came in with a second straight 67. He is level with South Africa`s Thomas Aiken, who has had identical scores to the Spaniard.
Playing alongside the two men ahead of him in the rankings, Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer, the world number three Woods looked comfortable and relaxed as he took advantage of perfect morning playing conditions to roll in six birdies, all from within fairly comfortable putting range.
"I`ve played myself right back in the tournament," he said
"I cleaned up the round. I didn`t make as many mistakes as I did yesterday and I think I hit the ball a little better today."
Woods` score bettered the two three-under 69s he returned two weeks ago in the first two rounds at Torrey Pines in California when he opened his year with a disappointing tie for 44th place in the USPGA Tour event.
Woods opted to continue his buildup to April`s Masters, when he will aim to bag a 15th major title, in Dubai where he has won twice before in 2006 and 2008.
Westwood had a 70 and was two back from Woods on five under. Kaymer had a 71 and is at four under.
McIlroy, whose 65 was the talking point of Thursday`s opening round, bogeyed the second hole to let slip the lead.
But birdies at the seventh and the ninth took the 21-year-old from Hollywood near Belfast to the turn in 34 and he rejoined Aiken atop the leaderboard with another pair of birdies at the 12th and 15th.
The winner here two years ago took the sole lead by sinking a 12 foot putt at the par-five last for a round of 68.
"I thought after the start that I had, I really hung in there and stayed patient and just sort of picked up my birdies when I could," he said. "It sets me up for a good weekend.
"I won here wire to wire here in 2009 and I would love to do that again."
Aiken, meanwhile, seeking his first European Tour win, maintained the fine form he showed last week in Qatar where he finished in a tie for sixth place.
"Been pretty consistent the last two years," he said.
"Feel like I`ve been putting myself in position to win a golf tournament and just haven`t been getting it done on the weekend."
Garcia had a bogey-free round of 67 and could have drawn level for the lead with McIlroy.
But he overhit his approach to the par-five last and took three to get down from there.
After a disastrous slump of form in 2010, Garcia showed signs of a revival with a top 10 finish in Qatar last week and on Friday he again showed glimpses of the form that took him to second spot in the world rankings at the end of 2008.
"No bogeys so far this week and a top 10 finish in Qatar last week, finding a bit of consistency perhaps there, as well.
"I`m definitely looking forward to keeping it going. Hopefully like the last four days I guess I`ve played."
Steve Webster of England was alone in fourth place at eight under par after shooting a 68, while four players shared fifth place with Woods on seven under.