Three Now Setting Pace in Dubai

First-round pacesetter Luke Donald has been joined at the top of the leaderboard in the $8 million DP World Tour Championship by Rory McIlroy and Marc Warren. The European Tour's season-ender began Thursday on the Earth course at Jumeirah Golf Estates in Dubai.

After opening with a 7-under 65, Donald shot a 68 Friday to reach 11-under 133, a number matched by Northern Ireland's McIlroy and Scotland's Warren, who both posted 67s.

The trio isn't exactly running away from the 60-player field as a stroke back are two South Africans - Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace, who posted 67 and 65, respectively, while trailing another shot are Scotland's Richie Ramsay (68) and South Africa's Charl Schwartzel (67).

McIlroy is ranked No. 1 in the world and Donald is in second in the latest World Golf Ranking. Donald supplanted Tiger Woods in the runner-up position after winning last week at the Japan Golf Tour's Dunlop Phoenix Open.

The 23-year-old McIlroy was feeling under the weather in the first round but was much better Friday. He'd like nothing more than to get his fifth title in 2012; his other four came in the U.S., including his second major title in August's PGA Championship. The Ulsterman has already wrapped up the money-list titles on both the PGA and European tours, a feat first accomplished by Donald in 2011.

"I came here as motivated as I have been all season and I am determined to end the season with a bang and win here in the desert," said McIlroy, who carded six birdies and a bogey - his only lost shot in 36 holes - for his 5-under effort.

"I feel this course gives me a good advantage if I'm driving it well because I can clear a lot of the fairway bunkers. I missed a couple of short putts on the front nine, but I've got to be happy tied for the lead going into the weekend."

Donald is not going to back down from the challenge. "I've got 36 holes to go and I really want to sign off with a victory," said the 34-year-old Brit, who makes his home in Chicago.

"Obviously, haven't dropped a shot in 36 holes, so feel good about that," Donald added. "I had some opportunities, 10-foot, 15-footers on a few holes that I just misread. But that was a solid round of golf. I didn't put myself in too much trouble today, but . . . when I have myself a little bit of trouble out on the course I was able to recover with the putter."

Warren, ranked 189th in the world, is looking for a bit of redemption this week after blowing a lead in July's Scottish Open and then losing the tournament in his home country to India's Jeev Milkha Singh in a sudden-death playoff. "It's nice to be the Scot in the pack with the Englishman and the Northern Irishman," Warren told reporters.

"It's great to be in contention with guys like that and it's a high-quality leaderboard. The atmosphere here is buzzing already, so I'm looking forward to seeing what it's like tomorrow and Sunday as well."

Perhaps the hottest player in the tournament is Grace, a four-time winner this season. The 24-year-old noted he has nothing to lose this week and is going to play aggressively the final two rounds in search of a fifth title.

"I guess you could come here with the attitude of freewheeling and enjoying it, but I came here with a couple of goals for the last event and I'm determined to pull them off," Grace told reporters. "Obviously I can't win the Race to Dubai as Rory has already done that, but I could finish second and I want to try for that. Then there's obviously lots of world ranking points at stake and I want to push for as many of those as I can."

Three shots behind the pacesetters in a logjam at 136 are Welshman Jamie Donaldson (68), Belgium's Nicolas Colsaerts (68), England's Justin Rose (68) and Danny Willett (65), Australia's Marcus Fraser (67), Frenchman Raphael Jacquelin (67), South Africa's Thomas Aiken (66), and Swedes Fredrik Andersson Hed (69), Henrik Stenson (68) and Peter Hanson (67).

Five players are tied for 18th at 137, including 2010 PGA champion Martin Kaymer (70) of Germany and Spain's Sergio Garcia. After opening with a 1-over 73, the 32-year-old Garcia matched the course record with an 8-under 64.

Garcia's round was a wild affair. After five birdies to make the turn in an error-free 5-under 31, Garcia held on tight while posting four birdies, two eagles - on the par-5 14th and 18th holes, two bogeys and a triple-bogey on the par-4 16th for a crazy 2-under 33 on the home half.

"I don't think I have ever had a rollercoaster round quite like that, with so much going on during the back nine," said Garcia, who's playing for just the second time since having laser eye surgery.

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