Rory McIlroy admits he “wasn’t at the races” on the opening day of the DP World Tour Championship as he stumbled to a 75. It seems the leaderboard ignominy was just the mental giddy up the world No.2 required.

McIlroy inched his way back into the Race to Dubai decider Friday with a four-under 68 around the Earth course at Jumeirah Golf Estates to sit at one under, 143 – eight shots adrift of halfway leaders Sergio Garcia and Francesco Molinari.

The weekend will tell whether McIlroy’s six birdie-two bogey card is enough of a comeback to give him a serious shot at a third DP World Tour Championship title, let alone a third European Order of Merit title.

At the very least the 27-year-old Northern Irishman has given himself something to play for over the last weekend of the European Tour season and his legion of UAE fans something to cheer.

“Mentally yesterday I was still on holiday I think. I just wasn’t really with it. Wasn’t at the races,” McIlroy said after an unusually early tee time in the second two-ball out at 8am with Ryder Cup pal Andy Sullivan.

“In fairness, I was looking forward to getting out this morning because I felt the greens yesterday afternoon got very grainy and quite difficult to read, so better greens in the morning here where the grain isn’t quite so strong. Felt like I had a chance to hole some more putts and I was able to do that…mentally was just a little bit sharper.”

The key to McIlroy’s round was a hat-trick of birdies from the sixth hole either side of bogeys at the forth and ninth. He closed out his round with birdies at the 13th and 18th.

So do you give yourself a chance this weekend Rory?

“I have to wait and see what the guys do this afternoon. I guess if I’m within sort of eight or nine shots going into the weekend, I still feel like I have a decent chance,” McIlroy said.

“I’d say if [overnight leader] Lee [Westwood] doesn’t get anywhere, or if one of the guys doesn’t get past 10 under, for example, then I feel like I still have a bit of a chance.”

The race for the Harry Vardon Trophy remains tight after the second round. Race to Dubai pole-sitter Hendrik Stenson shot a 69 to be three under on 141, tied with Danny Williett who carded a 70. Alex Noren matched Stenson’s 69 to lie at four under 140.

Sullivan, meanwhile, eagled the par 5 18th to card an equal best (with countryman Tyrrell Hatton) of the week 66, 10 shots better than his opening round to whiz up the leaderboard. – Kent Gray