DOHA, Qatar – Austria’s Markus Brier shot a 6-under 66 Friday to take a one-shot lead over South Africa’s Darren Fichardt at the halfway stage of the Qatar Masters, while top-ranked Lee Westwood and sixth-ranked Paul Casey missed the cut.
Brier, who has two victories on the European Tour, is 7 under and is two shots ahead of a trio that includes Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn, who followed an opening-round 74 with a 7-under 65.
Defending champion Robert Karlsson of Sweden and England’s Richard Finch are also 5 under.
England’s Westwood ended his tournament at 4 over, in a tie for 77th after shooting 75 Friday. Casey, who won last week’s Volvo Champions in Bahrain for his first victory in 20 months, was one shot farther back in a tie for 96th. He also shot 75 Friday to go with a 74 on Thursday.
Casey refused to comment on his struggles while Westwood attributed his early season struggles to “rust.” Westwood also finished 64th at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championships last month, when he last missed the cut in 2010.
“I didn’t play very well,” he said. “It’s early-season rust, I think. That’s it. I’m going to go on the range the next couple of days and try to get into some kind of rhythm.”
With some of the big names falling, it was the 478th-ranked Brier who tamed the course at the Doha Country Club that was virtually unplayable on Thursday due to strong winds. The Austrian had six birdies in a bogey-free round on Friday, enough to pass first-round leader Retief Goosen of South Africa who fell into a tie for sixth at 4 under after shooting a 71.
“I kept the ball in play and holed two or three really long putts, and that obviously makes the difference between a good and very good round,” said the 32-year-old Brier, who has not won a tournament since the China Open in 2007. “I’m happy, I mean, 6 under, it’s great to be up there again and hopefully it stays like this.”
Fichardt, who won in Qatar in 2003, had eight birdies and four bogeys to stay second.
“I’m going to take it just as another event,” Fichardt said. “There’s a hole in the green, there’s prize money, so it’s just another tournament. I just have to take it like that, shot for shot, and see what happens.”
Second-ranked Martin Kaymer of Germany has the chance to overtake Westwood for the top ranking if he finishes second or better in Doha. But he has plenty of work to do from his halfway position of 3 over in a tie for 57th after opening with a 5-over 77 and shooting a 70 on Friday.
“Well, I was playing a little bit better,” Kaymer said. “I was hitting a lot of greens today, since yesterday. I didn’t hole a lot of putts, but today, the two birdies I made was a two-putt on 16 and I hit it to a foot, that was the other birdie on the third hole. So I just struggled with the putting. But I was hitting the ball a little better today.”
Kaymer said his goal remains winning the tournament and he insisted the top ranking was still within his sights.
“I’m a little bit away now, but obviously if I have a good weekend, I might have a chance,” he said. “I’m here to win the golf tournament, and if I take care of winning, then it will happen automatically.”