ABU DHABI: Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson both made their moves on Friday, but they were left chasing the long-hitting Thomas Pieters of Belgium at the halfway stage of the $3 million Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
The 25-year-old Belgian, who was a star for the European Ryder Cup team in their loss to the US at Hazeltine, made seven birdies in his bogey-free round of 65 to climb on top of the leaderboard at 12 under par.
Spain’s Jorge Campillo added a 64 to his opening-round 69 to be one behind Pieters, while Alexander Levy of France (65) and England’s Ross Fisher (67) were in tied third place at 10-under 134 alongside overnight joint leader Tommy Fleetwood (68), who turned 27 on Friday.
After a disappointing opening round of even-par 72, world number one Johnson bounced back with a brilliant bogey-free round of eight-under-par 64.McIlroy is yet to make a bogey after two rounds and an eagle on his finishing hole catapulted him to nine-under for the tournament with a round of 66.
Pieters, ranked 40th in the world, finished second here in 2016 but missed the cut last year. However, he once again showed his love for the National course at Abu Dhabi Golf Club with a round that finished on a high note — a chipped-in birdie on the ninth from the greenside bunker.
Among the notables who will miss weekend play are European Ryder Cup veterans Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood, who missed by one shotWorld number six Justin Rose made a birdie on the 18th to finish on two under par.