Nicolai Højgaard will take a two-shot lead into the weekend at the DP World Tour Championship after a stunning finish to his second round at Jumeirah Golf Estates.
The Dane arrived at the Earth Course on day two in a share of the lead but back-to-back bogeys saw him stumble and he was still a long way behind despite fighting back to turn in level par.
A birdie on the tenth signalled the start of better things, though, and he added two more before finishing birdie-eagle to come home in 30 and sign for a 66 that left him at 11 under.
His Ryder Cup team-mates Tommy Fleetwood and Viktor Hovland were in the group in second after rounds of 66 alongside South Africa’s Thriston Lawrence – who fired the round of the day with a 64 – and Swede Jens Dantorp and Frenchman Antione Rozner, who both signed for 67s.
Højgaard may not have a win in the 2023 season but he has eight top tens – including a runner-up finish at last week’s Nedbank Golf Challenge – with three top fives in his last four DP World Tour starts.
The 22-year-old also has a runner-up finish on the PGA TOUR, with his form earning him a Captain’s Pick from Luke Donald for Europe’s thumping victory over the United States last month.
He finished in a tie for fourth in his only previous appearance at this event in 2021 and is now in pole position for a first Rolex Series victory to cap off a stunning season.
“It’s a little bit like last week,” he said. “Had a slow start in every round, basically. And then I just know on every round there’s going to be a run of birdies at some point with where my game is at. So it’s about staying patient.
“I would like to play the front nine a little bit better in the weekend but I’m very, very satisfied with how I’m playing these two rounds.
“I trust my game at the moment. It’s been a little bit shaky at times this year but I feel like we’re on track at the moment. I feel like I’ve got confidence in my shots, the selections of shots, the game-plan we’ve put in place every round. I’m very happy with how it’s going.
“I feel like (a win is) the only thing I missed this season but there’s two rounds to go. There’s a lot of really good players in this field I know that’s going to be in the hunt the next few days and I’m going to keep grinding as much as I can and put myself around, hopefully, and we’ll see on Sunday.”
A three-putt on the third and missed green at the next saw him slide down the leaderboard early on but he hit back with an approach to six feet at the fifth and a two-putt birdie on the par-five seventh.
A 21-footer on the tenth had him in red figures for the day and when he holed putts from similar range at the 13th and 15th, he was closing in on the leaders.
A tee-shot to six feet at the 17th then put him in a share and while he had to hold his breath as his tee-shot on the last looked to flirt with the water, he put his second to six feet for a closing eagle and a two-shot advantage.
Lawrence started the day four shots back but hit the front as he turned in 30 with the help of an eagle from eight feet on the second and a 66-foot putt on the sixth.
The fifth and sixth birdies of a blemish-free round on the 15th and 17th kept his nose in front but there was some serious firepower in the chasing pack and he soon had company.
Englishman Fleetwood bogeyed the fourth but took advantage of the two par-fives on the front nine and hit a nice tee-shot into the sixth before picking up four further birdies coming home, highlighted by a tap-in on the 12th and lengthy putt on the 13th.
Hovland picked up shots on the third and seventh before holing from 57 feet on the eighth and while the Norwegian gave a birdie on the 12th back on the next, he sandwiched a smart pitch on the 15th with gains on the par-five 14th and last to join the lead.
Rozner kickstarted his round with a long putt on the second and added gains on the fifth, seventh, 11th and 13th to join the lead. A bogey on the 14th dropped him out of top spot but he was back at the summit after a two-putt birdie on the last.
Højgaard’s big finish then put them all into second place but there was still time for Dantorp to join the party. The Earth Course debutant turned in 35 but came to life on the back nine, picking up four shots in five holes from the tenth before bogeying the 16th and picking the shot back up on the last.
South Africa’s Zander Lombard fired a 65 to sit at eight under alongside Frenchman Matthieu Pavon, who carded a 69, one shot clear of Frenchman Julien Guerrier, England’s Tyrrell Hatton, Scot Robert MacIntyre and Dane Thorbjørn Olesen.