Dubai - World No 1 Rory McIlroy made three birdies in his last three holes in the second round of the Dubai Desert Classic to take sole possession of the lead on Friday.
The Northern Irishman calmly rolled in a 20ft birdie putt on the par-5 18th hole on the Majlis course to finish a sensational bogey-free round of eight-under par 64 as he moved to 14-under par 130 for the tournament.
That gave him the breathing space of one shot over Scotland's in-form Marc Warren, who made nine birdies and two bogies in a round of seven-under par 65.
But McIlroy will have to keep his foot on the gas as two players are tied for third a further shot behind, which include his compatriot Graeme McDowell (65) and five players bunched on fifth place on 133, including defending champion Stephen Gallacher (67), the current leader of the Race to Dubai, Danny Willett (66) and England's Lee Westwood (68).
McIlroy has already made 15 birdies in the first two rounds, and he was under no illusion that he needed more of the same over the weekend if he wanted to stay ahead of the chasing pack.
"It's a very bunched leaderboard. I know I'm going to have to go out there and make a bunch of birdies over the weekend like I have the first two days," said McIlroy, who is leading the tournament for the fifth time in eight appearances.
"This course suits my game style: aggressive and go at the pins. The greens, even though it got a little bit crusty out there, it's still quite receptive.
"You can fire at pins and get aggressive, and with the high ball flight that I have, it sort of plays into my hands."
The Ulsterman hit 17 out of 18 greens in regulation and was delighted with his overall play.
"I felt like I played very nicely today. Couldn't ask for much more, bogey?free, made birdies and set myself up for a good run over the next couple days," added McIlroy.
"I felt like I played okay yesterday. I didn't play my best but I definitely improved from tee to?green out there and was able to make some putts."
The 33-year-old Warren, who moved up to 56th in the world rankings after his runners-up finish in last week's Qatar Masters, could secure his first Masters invitation if he has another good finish over the weekend.
The Scotsman started the day with a birdie on the 10th hole, and caught fire after his first bogey on the 12th. He then made five birdies over his next six holes, and on the much tougher front nine of the course, he made three more birdies and a bogey.
Warren appeared before the media with his two-year-old son Archie, whom he credited for most of his recent success.
"Since the wee man has come along the last few years have been pretty strong for me and takes a bit of pressure off you I suppose in a way that no matter how your day's went, he's generally quite happy to see me," said Warren, who has already qualified for the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral.
"He helps me totally forget about golf, as opposed to kind of thinking about it at nighttime or anything like that."
Three-time Desert Classic champion Ernie Els dodged a bullet and three late birdies helped him make it to the weekend at two-under par 142, which was the cut-line.
However, world number six Sergio Garcia will make an early exit after rounds of 75 and 71 meant he missed the cut.
Select second-round scores in the $2.5m Dubai Desert Classic on Friday at the par-72 Majlis course of Emirates Golf Club:
130 - Rory McIlroy (NIR) 66-64
131 - Marc Warren (SCO) 66-65
132 - Graeme McDowell (NIR) 67-65, Seve Benson (ENG) 66-66,
- Danny Willett (ENG) 67-66, Stephen Gallacher (SCO) 66-67, Andy
Sulliavan (ENG) 65-68, Lee Westwood (ENG) 65-68, Bernd Wiesberger (AUT)
134 - Morten Orum Madsen (DEN) 71-63, Renato Paratore (ITA) 68-66, Maximillian Kieffer (GER) 66-68, Peter Uihlein (USA) 65-69
135 - Pablo Larrazabal (ESP) 69-66, Alex Noren (SWE) 68-67, Robert Rock (ENG) 68-67, Emiliano Grillo (ARG) 67-68,
136 - Henrik Stenson (SWE) 70-66, Jordi Garcia Pinto (ESP) 70-66, Paul Waring (ENG) 69-67, Martin Kaymer (GER) 67-69,
137 - Jorge Campillo (ESP) 67-70,
- Moritz Lampert (GER) 71-67, Joost Luiten (NED) 68-70, Mikko Ilonen
(FIN) 67-71, Anders Hansen (DEN) 66-72, Richard Green (AUS) 70-68,
Thomas Pieters (BEL) 69-69, Gary Stal (FRA) 69-69, Kristoffer Broberg
(SWE) 69-69, Wade Ormsby (AUS) 69-69,
139 - Thongchai Jaidee (THA)
71-68, Ross Fisher (ENG) 71-68, Gregory Havret (FRA) 68-71, Thomas
Aiken (RSA) 68-71, Hennie Otto (RSA) 66-73, Anthony Wall (ENG) 69-70,
Nicolas Colsaerts (BEL) 65-74, Garth Mulroy (RSA) 69-70, David Lipsky
140 - Alexander Levy (FRA) 72-68, David Howell (ENG)
71-69, Byeong-hun An (KOR) 70-70, Edouard Espana (FRA) 70-70, Paul
Lawrie (SCO) 69-71, Gregory Bourdy (FRA) 69-71, YE Yang (KOR) 67-73,
Tyrrell Hatton (ENG) 71-69, Mike Lorenzo-Vera (FRA) 70-70, Andrew
Johnston (ENG) 68-72, Richard Bland (ENG) 71-69
141 - Oliver Farr
(ENG) 73-68, Alejandro Canizares (ESP) 72-69, Felipe Aguilar (CHI)
70-71, Tom Lewis (ENG) 68-73, Damien McGrane (NIR) 71-70, Richie Ramsay