Italy’s Francesco Laporta holds the halfway lead at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship presented by EGA after a scintillating 63 in the capital on Friday.
The world No 124, yet to win on the European Tour, reeled off five consecutive birdies coming home on the National Course to card a bogey-free 9-under-par round.
As such, Laporta sits on 10-under for the tournament to lead by one from Spain’s Rafa Cabrera Bello and England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick, while Sergio Garcia, Haotong Li and Renato Paratore are one shot further back.
Lee Westwood, Louis Oosthuizen, world No 6 Patrick Cantlay – the American is making his UAE debut – and Kurt Kitayama are all on 7-under.
Meanwhile, world No 1 Brooks Koepka is 3-under following a disappointing 75 on Friday, while defending champion Shane Lowry bogeyed the final two holes to post a 74 and miss the cut.
"I played solid all 18 holes," said Laporta, who registered nine birdies in total. "My putting was solid, my driver, my irons. I gave myself a lot of opportunity for birdies, and so when I had the opportunities, I took it. Every time I was putting for birdie, I made it. It was a great day."
A previous winner on the Challenge Tour, Laporta now competes for a first victory on Europe's main circuit and a substantial chunk of the $7 million (Dh25.7m) purse. The Abu Dhabi tournament is the first of eight Rolex Series events this year.
Asked about mixing it with golf’s lead players, Laporta said: “Feeling good. I didn't start the season [well]. I missed the cut in South Africa two times, and this is the third event and I'm leading, so I just want to enjoy the weekend.”
Cabrera Bello and Fitzpatrick, who have both secured titles in Dubai, represent Laporta’s closest challengers. Winner of the 2012 Omega Dubai Desert Classic, Cabrera Bello rebounded from a bogey on the seventh on Friday to birdie five of the next seven holes for a 68.
“Obviously very pleased for posting another very good score,” he said. “I felt the round improved throughout the day. My game got better, and I played good golf.
“I made some really, really good putts that gave me great momentum, but then I also hit some good shots that gave myself opportunities. I've been doing things well and I'm having that little bit of luck that you always need.”
The three-time European Tour winner has Fitzpatrick for company after the Englishman set the early clubhouse lead with a blemish-free 67. Winner of the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in 2016, Fitzpatrick has not dropped a shot in 36 holes in Abu Dhabi.
“For the first week of the year, to have no bogeys, couldn't ask for a better start, really,” he said. “Just played really disciplined golf and it's worked out well so far.”