Richard Sterne sank a birdie on 18 to take a one-shot lead over Danish youngster Thorbjorn Olesen and two others after the second round of the Dubai Desert Classic on Friday.
Meanwhile, Sergio Garcia pulled to within three of Sterne despite struggling with shoulder problems that required treatment midway through his round.
Sterne, a South African who has struggled with his own injuries in recent years, finished the day with a 12-under total of 132. Olesen (66), Tommy Fleetwood (68) and Stephen Gallacher (70) were a shot back.
Sterne had a topsy-turvy round in which he grabbed the lead with a birdie on 13 only to fall back into a tie when his drive went into sandy rough and he bogeyed 14. He recovered, though, with a 3-wood that traveled 250 yards and landed on the fringe for a long eagle putt. He rolled it to four feet and sank it for the birdie and outright lead at the halfway point.
"I'm pretty happy with the performance today. It was not as easy as yesterday," said Sterne, who was a shot from matching the course record on Thursday with a 10-under 62. "I held it together and I made a couple of good putts at the right time and a couple of good shots."
The 165th-ranked Sterne barely played in 2010 and 2011 because of a bad back, and was forced to spend his time watching countrymen win majors while he recuperated. He has won five times on the European Tour — the last time in 2009 — but admitted this was a rare occasion when he was leading coming into the weekend.
"I always kind of won coming from behind. I've been close to the lead on Sunday so I know what it's about," Sterne said. "There's a long way to go in this tournament. The guys are bunched up and there are some good players and I think anyone five or six back has still got a good chance of winning."
Olesen, a Dane who won his first tour event last year, started off with four birdies and sank a 15-footer on his 10th to move into a share of the lead. He briefly took the lead alone when he sank a 20-footer for one of his six birdies. He also didn't drop a shot for the second day in a row.
"I played more solidly, definitely. I rolled the putts really nicely the first two days, and that's why I'm 11 under," Olesen said. "I struck the irons a lot better today. I was still struggling a little bit from the tee and I got a few good breaks out there, especially on 8. It could have been a double but I saved par there."
Olesen is considered one of the rising stars of European golf. He signed alongside Rory McIlroy with Nike last month and broke into the top 50 with a second-place finish in Abu Dhabi, ensuring he will play all four majors this year.
"I want to win twice this season," he said. "That's my main goal. So the quicker I can get the first one, the better."
Six more players were within three shots of Sterne including Garcia, whose 67 put him at 9 under.
Early on, it appeared it would be a disappointing day for Garcia. The tightness in his left shoulder during the first round continued on Friday. He contemplated withdrawing four holes into the round but reconsidered when he got hot, carding two of his five birdies and an eagle on the final three holes.
"On the 14th green, I told my caddie, if it doesn't get better after 18, we'll probably walk. Because what I don't want is to keep building up and not really recover it," Garcia said. "Then, unfortunately, we started making birdies and eagles, and I thought, well, what do we do now? So I got the physio out and, he worked on it a little bit, put some ball on it. It did feel a little bit better."
Lee Westwood didn't fare so well. On track to finish the day at 8 under, he double-bogeyed the 17th after drove into sandy rough, botched a chip, and missed a short bogey putt. On 18, he reached the greenside rough in two but missed an eight-foot birdie putt to finish at 6 under.
Two-time major winner Mark O'Meara, who was in contention after the first round at 5 under, shot 2-over 74 on Friday to just make the cut at 3 under. Colin Montgomerie, shot 75 to sit level par. He missed the cut that was projected to be at 2 under.