By Matt Smith
DUBAI (Reuters) - An early start was pivotal as Britain's Danny Willett scorched his way to a seven-under-par 65 in the second round of the $2.5 million Dubai Desert Classic on Friday.
The 26-year-old preacher's son fired eight birdies and one bogey, producing his best display since a spectacular 63 at the Abu Dhabi Championship two weeks ago when he was also among the first players to tee off.
"If I have too long in bed my mind starts wandering. You can come here too early and do a bit too much, that's caught me out in the past," world number 109 Willett told Reuters after finishing three shots behind leader Rory McIlroy.
"By the time you tee off you've hit far too many balls and done far too much thinking about what you're trying to do. For early mornings you're almost not awake for the first few holes and it almost actually benefits you."
Willett will start his third round just after midday and the omens may not be good because the affable Englishman followed his 63 in Abu Dhabi with a 76.
He attributed his slump two weeks ago to a hip problem and said consistency was not an issue, a suggestion borne out by the fact he is a combined 26-under-par from 14 rounds this season.
"In the last six rounds I've probably only missed eight or nine greens," he explained.
"I'm playing some good golf, it's just a question of hitting it that little bit closer and holing a couple of extra putts."
Willett, whose only European Tour victory came at the 2012 BMW International Open in Cologne, bagged the joint lowest score on Friday along with American Brooks Koepka.
The Englishman was also one of only five golfers among the 12 leading players to do better in the second round than the first.
"I made the par-fives relatively easily today and took advantage of them a little bit better," said Willett who passed the time waiting for a television interview by joking around with his caddie and his manager.
"I kept it out of trouble and if you can hole a few putts...you can shoot some good numbers."
Willett began the week by making a charity skydive and joked to reporters that the terrifying experience might have put his golfing worries in perspective.
"It was a different way to start the week but if you are standing on the first tee trying to hit a drive on the fairway it seems a little less nerve-racking than jumping out of a plane at 13,000 feet," he said.
"As soon as you jump out you think 'What are we doing?'. After that you level out and start to feel like you are just floating down and it's unbelievable."
As for his hopes for the rest of 2014 Willett is focused on improving his game rather than trying to top his best world ranking of 64, achieved in 2010.
He shares third place in Dubai with Frenchman Julien Quesne and Ireland's Damien McGrane.
Koepka is in second spot, one stroke adrift of Northern Irishman McIlroy.
(Editing by Tony Jimenez)