He shot a 1-under-par 71 Friday, making birdies on two of the last three holes for a one-stroke lead halfway through the Dubai Desert Classic. Woods was at 8-under 136, and a victory will give him seven wins in eight starts. He also won in Dubai in 2006.
'It was not a pretty day out there,' he said.
Damien McGrane, who is ranked 319th and has never won as a pro, shot a 69 and was a stroke behind. He will be paired with Woods in the third round Saturday at Emirates Golf Club.
'I know he's Irish but that's about it,' Woods said.
Gusts reaching 30 mph shook the bunkers and desert terrain. Sand flew in faces and created a haze masking many of the glitzy skyscrapers usually seen towering over the course. Woods wore sunglasses but said he was still 'chewing sand all day.'
Defending champion Henrik Stenson of Sweden shot a 70 and was two strokes behind Woods. He shared third with Thomas Levet of France, who had a 71.
McGrane now must contend with the large crowds that follow Woods from hole to hole.
'There's a lot of distractions here,' Woods told him. 'I know there's a policy with cameras, but that's not really happening out here.'
Course marshals repeatedly had to ask the galleries watching Woods and his two partners -- Colin Montgomerie and Niclas Fasth -- to stand still and put their cameras away.
Before he putted at the fourth hole, Woods asked photographers to move out of his playing path. On the sixth hole, Montgomerie's caddie motioned for a spectator to put away his camera -- moments after a marshal asked the same thing.
As for McGrane, about a dozen or so fans followed his play, including his sisters. He was tied with Woods at 7 under until the world's No. 1 player birdied the 18th hole. Now they get to play together, and mild weather was expected Saturday -- partly sunny and decreasing winds.
'That's our ambition, play alongside him, see how the game is played, see what we should be doing,' he said. 'Because, obviously, he sets the mark at the moment.'
Woods' win at Torrey Pines in San Diego last weekend was his fourth straight and 62nd career title, tying Arnold Palmer for fourth place on the PGA Tour list.
Woods, who led by two strokes after the first round, bogeyed the first hole after driving into the rough. Bogeys followed on the 12th and 15th. He also missed some 10- and 12-foot putts. Poor putting plagued Woods Dubai last year, when he finished third.
'I had a hard time staying steady on them like the rest of the guys,' said Woods, who won last week's Buick Invitational by eight strokes. 'Plus, also, these greens aren't exactly the easiest greens to read. There's a bit of grain in there and you have to be committed, hit a good stroke and hopefully, it goes in. But didn't make a lot of putts today.'
Woods found some benefit from all the flying sand.
'Good thing is, don't need any fiber tonight,' he cracked.
For McGrane, who had four birdies and two bogeys, the chill and wind felt more like home.
'Finishing on the last few holes, it was very cold, and you don't expect that in the desert,' he said. 'But you know, it was nearly my type of weather today, so I made the most of it.'