DP World Tour Championship: Lorenzo-Vera holds off Rory McIlroy and Co to secure three-shot lead at halfway point

Frenchman fires 69 on Friday in Dubai to sit top of the leaderboard as he goes in search of his first European Tour victory

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Holding the lead and with the world No 2 in proximity, Mike Lorenzo-Vera was justifiably happy to have more than held his nerve.

At the mid-point in the DP World Tour Championship, the Frenchman perches proudly on top of the leaderboard, chasing down a first European Tour victory ahead of Rory McIlroy, Tommy Fleetwood, Jon Rahm and the like.

A 3-under-par 69 on Friday came hot on the heels of that supreme 63 in the opening round, the highlight a chip-in for birdie at 13 that opened up a seven-shot lead.

Although he dropped two shots in his closing four holes, Lorenzo-Vera goes into the final two rounds of the European Tour’s great season finale on 12-under. He is three strokes ahead of Fleetwood and Rahm, his closest challengers. Tom Lewis sits fourth, two shots further back. Behind him is McIlroy, in a three-way tie, six off the summit.

“I'm very pleased,” said Lorenzo-Vera, who has two runner-up finishes on tour this year. “Managed to hit the ball where I wanted, more or less. It was tricky and the wind was blowing pretty solid. It's a solid end; the last three are tough. I hit some really pure shots, and holed a few [to keep] momentum.”

Make no mistake, there remains a significant amount of work to do. But Lorenzo-Vera, who arrived in Dubai suffering the ill-effects of a lung infection, will take considerable heart from his day's play.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 22:  Mike Lorenzo-Vera plays his second shot on the 16th hole during Day Two of the DP World Tour Championship Dubai at Jumeirah Golf Estates on November 22, 2019 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

He stood up well not only to the blustery conditions around Jumeirah Golf Estates, but in keeping to his strategy of not attempting to go toe-to-toe with playing partner McIlroy. The Northern Irishman, enjoying his most consistent season as a professional, is a four-time major champion. What's more, he has won this event before - twice.

Yet Lorenzo-Vera simply played his own game.

“Actually I'm happy to not have fallen into something strange with Rory,” he said. “Playing with Rory and trying to over-play, it was dangerous to do that today, and I didn't. So that's what I'm really proud of mostly.

"I've played with him a few times in competition and I struggled with him in the beginning because I overplay. That was the game plan today: don't look at him. He's going to hit bombs. He's going to hit incredible iron shots sky-high and stuff, and that's not my game.
"Actually, I wasn't too far from him all day long, so I was pretty happy about that."

He should be content, as well, for maintaining the lead despite his energy being “down totally” after the lung issue that precipitated a closing 80 on Sunday at the Nedbank Golf Challenge in South Africa.

“I'm trying to sleep as much as I can and trying to recover from that,” Lorenzo-Vera said.

Saturday will bring its own worries, but he seems in the right shape mentally, even if not physically at his peak.

“Tactically, I know what I have to do, and I know that the winds are going to be different this weekend,” he said. “I'm not going to push more than what I'm doing now. Trying to trust my putter 100 per cent and that's what I can do.

Asked if he was enjoying being the man to beat, Lorenzo-Vera said: “Obviously I don't have the energy to enjoy that. I'm just really trying to focus and commit to the shots and let's see what happens.

“[The game plan] is kind of the same. Depends on the wind; I think it's going to change direction tomorrow. Just try to hit the zones, and sum up a pretty big year."

While Lorenzo-Vera was off to get some sleep, McIlroy planned to hit the range before bed. The PGA Tour player of the year struggled a little on Friday, shooting a 2-over 74 that included a double-bogey on the par-3 sixth and two more dropped shots. He ended the day as the only player in the top 12 to finish over-par for the round.

“Obviously just didn't quite have it today,” he said.

It was in stark contrast to 24 hours before, when McIlroy blitzed through a 64 that could even have been a few shots better. Such is golf.

“Look, it's a very fickle game; I've always said that one day it can seem very easy and then someone up there says, ‘No, not so fast’ and brings you back down to earth," McIlroy said. "That's golf.

“I battled through it. I'm still in with a shout to have a go at winning this tournament. Just need to stick the head down over the weekend and get in there and try to shoot a couple good scores.”