Amateur Michael Thorbjornsen shares halfway lead in Dubai Desert Classic

American on 10-under par alongside veteran Richard Bland and Thomas Pieters

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Midway through the Hero Dubai Desert Classic, and Michael Thorbjornsen is already in pinch-yourself territory.

The world No 2 amateur is ahead of the world No 1 golfer, in a share of the lead at a DP World Tour Rolex Series event.

On Saturday, in the Classic’s delayed second round, Thorbjornsen went out in 30, reeling off five birdies and an eagle, the latter in front of the hefty gallery on 18. The American, who began on the back nine, came home in 34, signing for 8-under par to climb alongside early leader Richard Bland at the summit.

By the time play concluded, the pair had Thomas Pieters for company. The trio sit on 10-under for the tournament, one ahead of another threesome containing Adri Arnaus, Marcus Kinhult and Connor Syme.

One shot further behind? An eight-strong group containing four-time major champion Rory McIlroy - the current world No 1 - 2018 Masters winner Patrick Reed and Ryder Cup lightning bolt Ian Poulter.

Little wonder Thorbjornsen, debuting in Dubai aged 21, is loving life.

“I enjoy playing professional golf a lot and I'm still an amateur, but just the golf courses that we play, the crowd out there, it's what I'm dreaming of ever since I was five- or six years-old,” he said. “It just feels good to be out there.”

It turns out it helps, too, to have the only amateur higher ranked than him in the game competing this week also. Sweden’s Ludvig Aberg, the world No 1, was one of the stars of the opening round, but followed his superb 65 with a more modest 73.

“Always you want to beat your fellow Ams, but I definitely feel like Ludvig and I push each other,” Thorbjornsen said. “In college we played a lot of golf recently together the past year, and I'm happy to see he's doing well, and I hope he's happy to see I'm doing well.”

Pieters seems in fine nick, as well. The Belgian, winner last year at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, is well placed for a UAE double, courtesy of a birdie blitz coming home on Saturday.

A six-time winner on tour, Pieters birdied seven of his closing nine holes to move alongside Thorbjornsen and Bland. It more than made up for his front nine, which included a single birdie and three bogeys.

“I was just really angry after nine,” Pieters said, laying the blame at the door of his driver. “I was just trying to get back into my round. But it's nice to see your name up at the top.”

Asked how he turned around his mood, Pieters replied: “Make birdies. That makes me happy. Sometimes that works.”

At nearly 50, Bland presumably has mellowed to the point where emotions can be more easily managed. To be fair, he hasn’t had much cause for consternation this week: in 36 holes, he has dropped one shot, offset handsomely with 11 birdies.

It’s made it successive 67s for the Englishman, a LIV Golf member with one career win on Europe’s lead circuit.

On only posting a lone bogey thus far, Bland said: “Just kind of not doing an awful lot wrong. Every part of my game is in pretty good shape. The only dropped shot was at six this morning, where second hole of the day [Bland began his second round late on Friday] and I kind of misjudged the temperature and chipped to three feet and missed.

“So other than that, it's been pretty stress-free, which is kind of nice.”

Meanwhile, the DP World Tour confirmed on Saturday there would be a further cut after Sunday's third round. With 87 players making the cut on 2-under, the field will then be reduced to the leading 72 players and those in a tie for 72nd.

For the first time in its 34-year history, the Classic will finish on a Monday.

Updated: January 28, 2023, 3:23 PM