DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The English and the Spanish as allies? Sir Francis Drake would have dropped one of his bowling balls onto his toes at the very thought. But Luke Donald will be sending a case of Rioja to Alvaro Quiros if the Spaniard can continue to leave Rory McIlroy in his wake over the weekend at the Dubai World Championship.
Quiros shot a second-round eight-under-par 64 and has opened up a four-shot lead over Sweden's Peter Hanson. McIlroy is one shot further adrift after a 71. Donald is 12th at four under. Remember, McIlroy needs to win to break the tape in the Race to Dubai, Europe's money list. Donald will take the bonus-pool cash if he finishes ninth, regardless of what McIlroy does.
Quiros, like an uninvited guest, now has a say as to which party will be pooped.
"Obviously they are trying for the Race to Dubai top position but the rest of us are playing here to try to ruin the party," Quiros said. "Luke and Rory are not the only two important people in the tournament."
McIlroy briefly tied for the lead with Quiros on the back nine before he bogeyed the last two holes, driving into the water hazard at 18. Quiros finished with a birdie on 16 and an eagle on 18 set up by yet another trademark, Earth-shattering, booming drive.
Mind you, McIlroy did not seem unduly bothered by the task ahead. He had to win in Hong Kong last week to have any chance at all of winning the Race to Dubai. And he did it. He began that final round three shots behind the leader and won by two. Guess who the leader was? Yep, Quiros.
"I made up three shots last week so five over 36 holes shouldn't be that much," McIlroy said. "I'm just trying to win. But I know that even if I do, it might not be good enough."
The European Tour's number crunchers have thrown out a cruel yet fabulous math fact. If McIlroy wins, Donald can actually afford to finish T9 with one other player and still take top honors. That would mean that 12 months of grinding and globe-trotting and glory hunting would all come down to the price of a pint of beer. Donald would top McIlroy's total winnings for the year by £3.55 (that's five dollars and 55 cents).
Donald's chances of victory appear unlikely but then again, all he needs is a top 10 and he has a record this year that not even Lady Gaga can match – 18 top 10s in 24 starts. His second round stalled with a run of nine pars and a bogey from the sixth to the 15th after playing the first five holes in two under par. But then Donald rallied to rattle off three birdies in a row to finish at four under.
"I feel a lot better after those last three holes," Donald said, admitting that he was making too many unforced errors, distracted by knowing he can finish ninth and still win. "When there's a lot on the line you feel a bit more nervous. I know what's at stake and it's a big deal to me. You try not to let those nerves affect your form but you try to use it to your benefit."
Donald said the first and second rounds in Dubai were different from how he felt at Disney when he knew he had to win to take the PGA Tour money list title from Webb Simpson.
"With Disney it was all or nothing," Donald said. "I'm sure Rory feels that way this week. It's hard not to think about that fact I've still got a chance even if he does win. I've got to try to get my mindset into winning this event. I want to win it. It would be foolish of me to rely on him not winning."
Donald is right to be wary. If McIlroy displays less "flawed" and more "genius" over the next two days, he can still pass out the party hats. McIlroy pulled off a flop shot from the rough at the back of the third green that would have gotten a high-five from Phil Mickelson. The ball shot up so vertically it almost bashed McIlroy on the nose and floated down onto the green where it stopped two feet from the hole. The rate of success for pulling off such an audacious shot was two out of 10. Stand back. Genius at work.
The odds are considerably better for McIlroy chasing down a five-shot deficit over two rounds. The Hollywood ending is still in the script for the boy from Holywood, Northern Ireland. But only just.