Abu Dhabi - Danish prospect Thorbjorn Olesen outshone the big guns to lead at the halfway stage of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship here Friday, but Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy are poised to strike.
The 22-year-old Manchester United fan added a five under 67 to his opening round of 70 and at one stage led the field by three strokes before a closing bogey pinned him back.
Gareth Maybin of Northern Ireland and Matteo Manassero of Italy were a stroke back in second place at six under with top draws Woods and McIlroy in a group of seven players on five under.
The 22-year-old Ulsterman would have retained the joint lead he held after the first day but for a two-stroke penalty incurred at the ninth hole for brushing sand from his line, while his ball was still in the rough and not yet on the putting surface.
Olesen enjoyed an outstanding rookie year in 2011 with runner-up finishes in South Africa and at the Italian and French Opens which left him at 48th in the Race to Dubai rankings.
"There are so many good guys in this event, it's tough," he said.
"If Tiger (Woods) plays well he's unbeatable I think. But I just try to play my own game and try to be up there on Sunday."
Hot on his heels, Woods was playing well - striking the ball cleanly as he did on Thursday and this time getting some putts to fall.
He had five birdies against two bogeys in his 69, which left him on five under - just two strokes off the lead.
The 36-year-old American has been the focus of attention once again here this week as he lights the fuse on a campaign that he hopes will see him return to the forefront and possibly add to his majors haul of 14.
A win could propel him back into the world top 10, but the main objective he has is to win a 15th Grand Slam title at Augusta National in early April.
"I'm only two back. It's a bunched leaderboard. So many guys have a chance to win. Just got to keep plugging along and doing what I am doing," he said.
Playing alongside Woods and world number one Luke Donald, McIlroy for the second day running blew hot and cold.
He had five birdies to go with the seven he had on Thursday but spoiled them with two double bogeys and a bogey for a round of level par 72 that left him on five under.
"My ball was just maybe six feet off the green and there was a lot of sand in between my ball and the hole," said McIlroy of his brush with the law at the ninth.
"I just brushed the sand and Luke (Donald) was like 'I don't think you can brush sand off the fringe'. And I'm like - Oh yeah, you're right - just one of those things."
Donald, like Woods and McIlroy starting his season here, kept plugging away and stayed in contention with a 72 that left him at one under.
Also making moves on Friday were playing partners Sergio Garcia of Spain, Masters champion Charl Schwartzel of South Africa and Ireland's former British Open and USPGA champion Padraig Harrington.
All three finished the day on four under 140, three shots off the lead with Garcia and Harrington shooting 69s and Schwartzel a 70.
"At this stage of the season, everything is looking pretty rosy, but it always is at the start of the year," Harrington said.
"You are always optimistic that everything is going to fall into place and I do believe that I've seen some good signs."
World number two Lee Westwood stayed in touch despite a painful neck with a battling 72 for level par, but it was a disappointing day for Martin Kaymer, seeking a rare hat-trick of wins here in Abu Dhabi.
The German world number four struggled to a five over 77 on Thursday and he was little better on Friday coming in with a 73 to stand at six over for the tournament well outside the cut.
Leading scores at the par-72 National Course in the second round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship:
137 - Thorbjorn Olesen (DEN) 70-67
138 - Gareth Maybin (NIR) 68-70, Matteo Manassero (ITA) 73-65
139 - Jean-Baptiste Gonnet (FRA) 68-71, Robert Rock (ENG) 69-70, Paul Lawrie (SCO) 70-69, Robert Karlsson (SWE) 67-72, Rory McIlroy (NIR) 67-72, Tiger Woods (USA), 70-69, Robert Finch (ENG) 68-71
140 - Sergio Garcia (ESP) 71-69, Padraig Harrington (IRL) 71-69, Charl Schwartzel (RSA) 70-70, Richie Ramsay (SCO) 69-71, Jose Manuel Lara (ESP) 70-70.
141 - Graeme McDowell (NIR) 72-69, Miguel Angel Jimenez (ESP) 72-69, Johan Edfors (SWE) 70-71, James Kingston (RSA) 72-69, Francesco Molinari (ITA) 74-67, Anders Hansen (DEN) 71-70, Liang Wen-Chong (CHN) 70-71