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Lee in half-way lead with help from his brother and Santa

Craig Lee put his share of the lead at the halfway stage in Abu Dhabi down to a Christmas gift and the benefits of having a putting green in his front garden.

LEE: has putting green in his garden
LEE: has putting green in his garden

The Bridge of Allan golfer posted a second-round 67 to share the lead on nine under par with the Spaniard Rafa Cabrera-Bello (68). England's Danny Willett was one back after he came within a shot of the National Course record with a 63, and three players - Rory McIlroy (67), Thomas Bjorn (67) and Ricardo Gonzalez (66) - share fourth place on seven under.

The 36-year old Lee has averaged just 27 putts over the two rounds as he seeks a first Tour success, and he joked that "Santa brought me a good putting stroke for Christmas".

Aside from changing his wedges regularly - not an unusual practice on the Tour - other changes to his bag since the play-off loss in Switzerland have been to add the new Callaway Big Bertha driver and switch to the Odyssey Versa No.7 putter. "I am hitting a lot more putts with this new putter the way I want to; once you do that, you can figure out how to read the greens a bit easier," he added.

"Callaway have sanded down the edges; they've made it a little bit sharper and it's a little bit clearer to the eye. I am really happy with the way I am putting."

Although he has received some "weird" looks from neighbours in recent times, Lee's putting is improving as a consequence of the efforts of his younger brother, Stephen, who installed a 20ft by 14ft Astroturf putting green in the front garden on his home last year. "The neighbours have been looking at us strangely but it's definitely helped," he said.

A rejuvenated McIlroy is seeking a second win in three attempts at the event and aiming to erase the memory of last year's embarrassment, when he missed the cut after a pair of 75s. "Coming off the last green last year, after 36 holes, I was deflated to say the least," said the world No.7.

"The week didn't go as I planned it. But it's so much better this year. I'm happy with how I'm playing, I'm striking the ball really well. I got a few putts to drop on the back nine.

"I feel if I can keep hitting it the way I have been, I've got a great chance to win in this tournament."

Colin Montgomerie shot 68 alongside his fellow winning Europe Ryder Cup captain, Jose Maria Olazabal (71), and both made the cut, with three under and level par totals respectively.

The Scot suggested that Olazabal's late, great friend Seve Ballesteros must have been looking over the Spaniard's shoulder. "Olazabal was amazing; he should never have made the cut," said Montgomerie. "He hit the pin at the sixth out of a bunker to make par; he almost holed it at the seventh for a par; 240 yards to go for his third shot at eight and he made par; and then he hit it in the water at the ninth, which isn't in play. He was 50 yards right and chips in for par. Seve would be proud of him; I was proud of him; he's unbelievable."

Bathgate's Stephen Gallacher (73 for 143) and Fifer Peter Whiteford (70 for 144) made the cut but Paul Lawrie was planning a weekend round of golf with his caddy Dave Kenny at nearby Saadiyat Beach after missing out in his first event of the year with scores of 80 and 73 for 153. His dismal opening effort was his highest score since an 81 in the first round of last year's Open at Muirfield.

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