Pieters powers clear in Abu Dhabi; India’s Shubhankar Sharma jumps to tied 44th
Abu Dhabi, January 19: Thomas Pieters fired a bogey-free seven under par round of 65 to take the halfway lead in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship presented by EGA on a day when the mouth-watering three-ball of Tommy Fleetwood, Rory McIlroy, and Dustin Johnson also underlined their title credentials.
Meanwhile, India’s Shubhankar Sharma, who is sponsored by Take Solutions, DLF and Indorama Ventures Plc., closed with a two-under-par 70 to jump to tied 44th position. Shubhankar recovered well following an early hiccup on 2nd and 3rd where he dropped a stroke each. He bounced back in style to birdie the fifth hole to turn at one over par. On his return journey, Shubhankar opened with consecutive birdies on 10th and 11th and ended his round with a birdie on the par-5 18th. “It’s a fantastic course – bit long and tricky. Having played more on the course always helps and now that I have gotten used to the condition, I’m expecting to go low on the weekend rounds,” said Shubhankar.
Pieters and his playing partner, EurAsia Cup teammate Ross Fisher, set the tone for a low-scoring day, with the Belgian laying down the clubhouse target of 12 under par, while Englishman Fisher posted a round of 67 to sit two shots back.
“I’ve done well here in the past and it suits me. We hit driver wherever we can and the rest of it, you know, it’s good ball-striking and going at a couple flags with wedges when you have the chance to do that. It was nice to hole one on the last after two terrible shots, but the rest of it was decent today. Ball-striking was good and I hit most of the middle of the greens. If I had a wedge, I went at the flag and I think I got up-and-down or made birdie with a wedge in my hand three or four times. It wasn’t really that fancy today but a very good round,” said Pieters.
Spain’s Jorge Campillo then birdied the final two holes for a superb 64 to close the gap at the top of leaderboard to just one shot, while another EurAsia Cup player, France’s Alex Levy, joined Fisher in a share of third place: “I played well the same as yesterday but I didn’t make any mistakes. Yesterday I made a few mistakes but I played solid. I hit all of the fairways, a lot of greens and I made the putts that I had to make. It was a nice day to shoot low and I played good, actually. Conditions were perfect. The greens are perfect, and every time I look up, everyone is making a putt. The rough is a little lower than normal so it’s perfect conditions to shoot a low number. You still have to do it but it’s a great day to play golf.”
Defending champion Fleetwood, celebrating his 27th birthday, then made it a three-way tie on ten under par courtesy of a four under par 68 in the marquee afternoon group alongside four-time Major Champion McIlroy and World Number One Johnson, both of whom made significant strides up the leaderboard to set-up a fascinating weekend at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.
“I said yesterday, I think however long my career is, I’ll struggle to get a better three-ball in my life. It was always going to be enjoyable. Dustin shot the most stress-free 64 and Rory shot the most stress-free 66 you’ll ever see. For me, it was a bit more stressful for me but I really holed out well, so I just kept going,” said Fleetwood.
“It’s a great honour to be European Number One and it’s a great accomplishment to have in my career. The unfortunate thing is that nobody cares right now. When you’re playing out there, nobody cares what you did last year. You’ve got to get on with it and you have to keep moving forward. So for me, lovely to have accomplished it and having your name announced on the first tee, Defending Champion, and Race to Dubai Champion is something I’ll enjoy for a year and hopefully I can do it again.”
McIlroy rolled in a 30ft eagle putt on the last for a round of 66 to move to nine under par, the same mark as Englishman Paul Casey, a two-time champion in Abu Dhabi, who also finished with a three on the par five 18th for a round of 65. “That was very satisfying. I’ve done quite a bit of work over the off-season and worked on my swing and a couple little tweaks here and there. They seem to have paid off already. A couple little swing thoughts that I still have but it’s nice to see that the work I put in on the range can translate onto the golf course, and that’s been a great thing to see for me over the last two days,” said Rory.
“Finishing with the eagle was massive. With five shots to make up over the weekend is quite a lot especially with a bunched leaderboard, so to cut that deficit to three, I feel so much closer to the lead. I feel like if I get off to a hot start tomorrow before the leaders go off and all of a sudden you’re one back or tied or the lead, and then you’re really in the tournament.”
Johnson is a further shot back on eight par after a bogey-free 64 and the American is nicely poised for weekend charge similar to 12 months ago when he was 12 under par for the closing 36 holes to finish one shot behind Fleetwood: “I felt pretty good out there today. I did everything really well. I mean, it was a pretty easy 64. I hit it really well. I had a lot of great looks. I didn’t really hole any putts, really, until I made two nice putts on 17 and 18. But other than that, it was just really solid all day long. Hit a lot of great shots. Had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.
“I like the golf course. I did well here last year, and especially using, I got the new M4 in the bag and driving it really well with it. I’m very pleased with it and pleased with all my clubs right now. I’ve got a lot of confidence and you know, just need to go out tomorrow and put up a low one again.”
Round two scores (par 72)
132 T Pieters (Bel) 67 65,
133 J Campillo (Esp) 69 64,
134 A Levy (Fra) 69 65, R Fisher (Eng) 67 67, T Fleetwood (Eng) 66 68,
135 B Wiesberger (Aut) 67 68, P Casey (Eng) 70 65, S Brazel (Aus) 67 68, R McIlroy (Nir) 69 66, A Sullivan (Eng) 70 65,
136 R Fox (Nzl) 70 66, C Paisley (Eng) 69 67, D Johnson (USA) 72 64, B Grace (RSA) 72 64, F Zanotti (Par) 67 69, D Frittelli (RSA) 69 67, A Johnston (Eng) 68 68,
137 J Scrivener (Aus) 69 68, J Luiten (Ned) 69 68, M Kaymer (Ger) 69 68,
138 M Fitzpatrick (Eng) 68 70, T Detry (Bel) 70 68, H Stenson (Swe) 70 68, W Ashun (Chn) 71 67, K Broberg (Swe) 69 69, P Dunne (Irl) 68 70, H Tanihara (Jpn) 66 72, J Wang (Kor) 71 67, R Ramsay (Sco) 68 70,
139 M Wallace (Eng) 71 68, N Colsaerts (Bel) 69 70, T Hatton (Eng) 69 70, C Pigem (Esp) 68 71, B Stone (RSA) 69 70, A Otaegui (Esp) 70 69, S Vincent (Zim) 69 70,
140 S Hend (Aus) 71 69, K Aphibarnrat (Tha) 70 70, B Hebert (Fra) 72 68, R Sterne (RSA) 68 72, D Fichardt (RSA) 73 67, S Gallacher (Sco) 68 72, S Han (USA) 73 67,
141 R Karlsson (Swe) 71 70, M Manassero (Ita) 70 71, B An (Kor) 71 70, G Havret (Fra) 70 71, D Burmester (RSA) 69 72, L Bjerregaard (Den) 72 69, L Jensen (Den) 70 71, N Bertasio (Ita) 70 71, G Stal (Fra) 72 69, G Bourdy (Fra) 71 70, S Sharma (Ind) 71 70, M Korhonen (Fin) 73 68, L Slattery (Eng) 69 72,
142 T Olesen (Den) 69 73, J Rose (Eng) 71 71, M Ilonen (Fin) 68 74, S Kjeldsen (Den) 72 70, H Porteous (RSA) 72 70, J Smith (Eng) 72 70, M Kuchar (USA) 72 70, J Kruyswijk (RSA) 75 67, J Lagergren (Swe) 69 73, M Lorenzo-Vera (Fra) 71 71, R Gouveia (Por) 72 70, R Cabrera Bello (Esp) 72 70, A Cañizares (Esp) 71 71, T Bjørn (Den) 73 69, A Quiros (Esp) 70 72,
143 M Kieffer (Ger) 73 70, T Aiken (RSA) 70 73, R Jacquelin (Fra) 72 71, A Romero (Arg) 72 71, P Hanson (Swe) 70 73, T Jaidee (Tha) 73 70, D Brooks (Eng) 72 71, R Paratore (Ita) 76 67, A Wall (Eng) 72 71, A Björk (Swe) 69 74, G Coetzee (RSA) 72 71, J Donaldson (Wal) 73 70, D Drysdale (Sco) 72 71, O Fisher (Eng) 68 75, L Westwood (Eng) 74 69, I Poulter (Eng) 75 68, P Waring (Eng) 70 73,
144 E Molinari (Ita) 74 70, E Pepperell (Eng) 72 72, J Norris (Aus) 73 71, D Lipsky (USA) 71 73, W Ormsby (Aus) 73 71, A Chesters (Eng) 70 74, G McDowell (Nir) 70 74, D Horsey (Eng) 72 72,
145 R Bland (Eng) 74 71, C Shinkwin (Eng) 73 72, A Connelly (Can) 72 73, T Immelman (RSA) 69 76, L Haotong (Chn) 73 72, R Rock (Eng) 74 71, P Larrazábal (Esp) 71 74,
146 B Dechambeau (USA) 74 72, S Jamieson (Sco) 75 71, M Warren (Sco) 73 73, G Storm (Eng) 74 72, R Wattel (Fra) 69 77, S Lee (Kor) 74 72, M Pavon (Fra) 77 69, M Southgate (Eng) 74 72, P Lawrie (Sco) 74 72,
147 Z Lombard (RSA) 73 74, N Elvira (Esp) 74 73, J Morrison (Eng) 75 72,
148 E Els (RSA) 76 72, A Dodt (Aus) 76 72, M Siem (Ger) 75 73,
149 T Buchanan (Sco) 74 75,
150 C Wood (Eng) 74 76, P Khongwatmai (Tha) 77 73, C Hanson (Eng) 71 79,
151 J Olazábal (Esp) 78 73,
155 D Kirkwood (am) (Eng) 74 81,
166 A Al Musharrekh (Uae) 86 80,
With inputs from European Tour Media