Rumford is leading the way

The Western Australian is supreme with his extended putter in Doha as he leads the Qatar Masters at the halfway stage.

DOHA // Watching Brett Rumford tickle his throat with his extended putter as he assessed a series of birdie chances suggested he is not as confident on the greens as some of his rivals for glory in this weekend's Qatar Masters. The Western Australian demonstrated yesterday that appearances can be deceptive. Time after time during a stunning outward nine holes of his second round in Doha, Rumford looked set to roll in birdie putts. Four times his ball duly disappeared, on four more occasions he made solid pars and then received a timely bonus for his excellent work with a chip in on the ninth.

That enabled Rumford to reach the turn in only 31 strokes and suggest that a tough course, which tested the resolve of the European Tour's finest on a windy opening day, was about to be tamed with a vengeance, especially as he added a sixth birdie on the 10th. So it was with a modicum of disappointment that Rumford, 32, who has four titles to his name, signed for "only" a 66 for a nine-under par total of 135.

A bogey on his 14th hole (the fifth), from what he described as a really bad lie in the rough, halted his momentum but a wedge to only a foot away at the last enabled him to establish a narrow halfway lead in the US$2.5million (Dh9.1m) second leg of the Desert Swing. "I had several good opportunities coming home but I just couldn't take them," he lamented, "but you have to be pleased if you are leading an event like this."

He spoke of a two-stroke advantage but was unaware that Welshman Bradley Dredge, who had shared the overnight lead with England's Oliver Wilson, had made a similar closing birdie to him simultaneously on the other half of the course. That four at the last to complete a round of 69 took Dredge out of a three-way tie for second place with Wilson and European No 1 Lee Westwood who will this afternoon rekindle a relationship that began in the junior county ranks with Nottinghamshire in England.

Westwood, the winner of the season-ending Dubai World Championship in November but a rusty flop on his seasonal reappearance in Abu Dhabi last week, will fancy his chances going into the business end of the tournament. He reported that he had not struck the ball as well as he would have liked in adding his 69 to Thursday's 68 and his assertion that "I'm in contention for the weekend" came as something as an understatement.

Robert Karlsson, the 2008 Order of Merit champion, looked like joining his successor Westwood and Wilson on seven under but the wildest of drives on the 15th cost him two of his hard-earned shots. He retrieved one of them on the short 17th but had to settle for a share of fifth place with his fellow Swede, Niclas Fasth. The halfway cut was made at a generous two over par, indicating how much trickier it has been here than in Abu Dhabi, but it was still not inviting enough for Ian Poulter who came within a shot of making a play-off a week ago and last night found himself a similar margin away from merely surviving.

Kenny Perry, who heads a three-pronged American challenge here, had to fight hard to stay on the right side of the dividing line. An eagle at his opening hole removed some of the threat of him also becoming a high-profile failure, but a bogey at his penultimate hole left him needing to make par the last to be safe. wjohnson@thenational.ae

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