By Matt Smith
DUBAI (Reuters) - Henrik Stenson rattled in eight birdies for a second-round 64 to lead Dubai's $8-million DP World Tour Championship on Friday, putting the Swede firmly in control of a five-man tussle to top the 2013 European money list.
The world number three has yet to notch up a victory on the European circuit this year but won the U.S. PGA Tour's end-of-season FedExCup in September and seems poised for another bumper payday following a near-flawless performance on the Greg Norman-designed Earth course.
"I hit a lot of fairways, a lot of greens, gave myself opportunities and rolled a couple of nice putts," said Stenson.
"It could be a bit better, but there's no point being greedy either. Everyone is going to miss a few out there on the greens. They are tricky to read, a lot of grain and they're quick. I'm delighted with the first two days' work."
Stenson is 12 under par on 132, one shot ahead of first-round leader Alejandro Canizares.
The Spaniard saved par on the 18th with a 10-foot putt after finding the water, while Stenson shrugged off a missed eagle opportunity on the 14th as he picked up four shots on the final seven holes.
"(I'm) coming off a little bit unhappy with my performance on the 14th, it would have felt pretty bad for the momentum to drop one straight after that - it would have felt like two dropped shots so that putt was crucial," said Stenson.
The 37-year-old bogeyed the 18th on his first round but with the tee moved forward on day two he lofted a 120-foot wedge to the edge of the green that rolled back to within a yard of the pin, allowing him to sink a final birdie.
He went into the European season finale leading the Race to Dubai, formerly known as the European Order of Merit.
Stenson, England's Justin Rose and Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell would all top the money list should they prevail over 72 holes on the desert course.
Englishman Ian Poulter and Wales's Jamie Donaldson would do likewise if they win this tournament and Stenson finishes third or lower.
The chasing quartet are struggling to keep up with the nerveless Swede, who did not drop a shot all round and would net a $1-million bonus if he proves to be Europe's top player of 2013.
Rose (67) and Poulter (68) are among a group of players tied for fifth on 137, or seven under, while McDowell (68) and Donaldson (72) are on 140.
Stenson said he was particularly wary of Rose and Poulter.
"They're chasing me as good as they can and I know neither one of the guys are going to back down," said Stenson. "I normally keep track of what's happening. I'm too curious not to."
Poulter, 37, rued clumsy bogeys on holes 10 and 12, but was adamant he was still in contention for both titles.
"As long as I'm in striking distance come Sunday afternoon, then we might see some fireworks," the world number 15 added.
Canizares blamed a lack of focus for finding the water on the 18th, but said he was playing well enough to be a surprise winner, with his solitary tour victory coming seven years ago.
"I'm due one I think, I know I can do it - I just have to be patient and play my golf and not get too obsessed with the win," said the 30-year-old, who has not dropped a shot since the fifth hole of the first round.
Defending champion Rory McIlroy, the outgoing money list winner, could steal a late march on the leader board after scoring a steady second-round 67 to put him on 138.
"It'll take a couple of 65s or around there to have a chance," said the world number six. "The way I'm hitting the ball I'm giving myself plenty of birdie chances. I feel there is a low (score) in there."
(Editing by Clare Fallon)
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