One of the early starters at Yas Links on Friday, Ian Poulter soon summed up how most of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship field would ultimately feel come the end of play.
If Thursday’s opening round of the tournament’s inaugural run on Yas Island was peppered with birdies in benign conditions, on Friday the wind howled. At times, it was gauged to be gusting around 30 miles per hour.
Subsequently, the scoring was considerably higher.
“In some respects you enjoy it and in some respects it's actually kind of miserable,” Poulter said afterwards, having signed for a level-par 72.
He added with a wry smile: “I'm hoping this afternoon they get to enjoy what we got to enjoy this morning.”
Presumably, Poulter concluded the day with a bigger grin on his face. The Englishman's work began brilliantly in the bluster with birdies at the first two holes, but he later made two bogeys to finish on 6-under. Never fear, though: Poulter is in a tie for second, one shot behind first-round leader Scott Jamieson, who carded a 74.
Shane Lowry, winner in Abu Dhabi in 2019, heads the four-man group one shot further back. In all, there are 28 players within six shots of the summit. To give an idea of the difference between days, on Thursday, Jamieson shot a standout 63. On Friday, Denmark’s Jeff Winther went lowest, with a 69.
The majority didn’t fare anywhere near as well. For instance, world No 2 Collin Morikawa and world No 8 Rory McIlroy look to have snuck into the weekend right on the cut line (the afternoon play was delayed by 25 minutes, so some of the field could not finish their rounds).
McIlroy, with eight top-three finishes in his past nine starts in Abu Dhabi – that said, he has never won the event - required a birdie at the last to sign for a 75 and keep alive his chances of making the cut. Morikawa, the current Race to Dubai champion, registered a 74.
McIlroy, a four-time major winner no less, could be heard telling playing partner Lee Westwood as they trudged off 18: “I’ve never been so glad to get off the golf course.”
While not quite as definitive, Poulter wasn’t sure if the conditions were there to relish, or simply battle against.
“Both,” he said. “It's really tricky. A poor shot with the wrong wind gets really punished. I really only hit one or two of those, but I didn't really get punished.
“I got to the last hole today and had a 25-foot birdie putt and when you've birdied 1 and 2, it takes you all the way around to 18, it's like, ‘Jeez, been a while before you have another good look at making birdie’. But that was tough."
To be fair, it represented a pretty testing second day to the 2022 DP World Tour season.
“You don't get to play in this kind of wind very often, especially when you've had nine weeks off and it's never going to be this windy in the off-season, so you don't really go and practise in it,” said Poulter, whose playing partner Lowry matched his 72 to remain on 5-under for the tournament.
“To get this thrown at you early in the season is tricky. Shane would have said the same. It was kind of like, ‘God, it's been a while since you've had to hit those type of shots’. In a way, it's actually quite nice. We've played them in the past, chipping 7-irons from 120 [yards] and hitting 3-woods from 217. You've got to go into the archive and sort and of try and remember some of the shots you've played in the past.”
Poulter, aged 46 and therefore with plenty experience banked, has decent company on the leader board. World No 6 Viktor Hovland shares second after a Friday 73, together with Scott Morrison, although the Englishman must come back on Saturday morning to finish the final four holes of his second round.
Even Lowry, an Irishman who captured the 2019 Open, found it a struggle. And he’s supposed to revel in the wind. Or, at least, that’s the perception.
“I don't love it,” Lowry said. “I'd prefer it was calm, but I know how to play in those conditions. I knew going out this morning that it would be up. I knew to go out and just play my game and do my thing.
“Because it's in the wind, I think about it a lot less and I just hit the shots I see. That's what makes me so good in the wind, I think. I just kind of play with a lot of feel. It worked. I was decent today and hopefully it's not going to be as windy the weekend, but it will still be blustery. We'll see.”
Good friend McIlroy was asked afterwards if he was still happy with how he’s playing, and said: “I have absolutely no idea. Feel like I'm hitting it well. Hit it well on the range this morning. It's all in there.
“But hopefully I get to play the weekend and we'll have a couple of calm days. I'd just like another two competitive days of play and see where I'm at.”
A regular visitor to the UAE, McIlroy conceded he hadn’t experienced such a day before in the Emirates.
“It's like, ‘I'll go to the Middle East, perfect’,” he said. “It's different. I can't remember when it's been like this here. I played in a couple of sandstorms in Dubai and a couple of mornings it's been cold in Abu Dhabi. But nothing like this.”