Late surge fires Rory McIlroy into Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship contention

Rory McIlroy reached the penultimate hole of his delayed second round at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship on Saturday, realised he needed to shoot up the leaderboard and promptly turned on the afterburners.
Rory McIlroy will start the third round two off leader Andy Sullivan. Paul Childs / Reuters
Rory McIlroy will start the third round two off leader Andy Sullivan. Paul Childs / Reuters

ABU DHABI // Rory McIlroy reached the penultimate hole of his delayed second round at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship on Saturday, realised he needed to shoot up the leaderboard and promptly turned on the afterburners.

Beginning the final five holes five off the summit, McIlroy stayed there until he birdied the par-4 17th, then followed with an eagle on the par-5 18th when he very nearly holed his second shot for his first albatross in golf.

So he concluded the midway point joint-second on 8 under-par, alongside amateur Bryson DeChambeau and two strokes from Andy Sullivan.

The pep talk on 17 obviously worked, but it begs the question: if you are that good and can turn it on whenever, why not do it right from the off? McIlroy acknowledged as much.

“I said ‘let’s finish 3-3’ and I was able to,” he said. “Don’t know if I should say that to myself on the first tee: ‘OK, let’s have 18 threes here’.”

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Of course, that sort of scoring is reserved only for dreamers and dictators. McIlroy’s second swipe on the final hole seemed the stuff of fantasy, too, when he drilled a fairway wood from 268 yards that grazed the hole and rested two feet from the cup.

In a career that already appears to have contained almost everything, including a first hole-in-one, in Abu Dhabi last year, an albatross has thus far proved elusive. For that, he simply defers to McIlroy Snr.

“I think my dad’s had a couple,” McIlroy said. “I haven’t quite caught up with him on that.”

He very nearly did.

“I’m not sure how close it came to going in,” McIlroy said. “But just happy to finish with an eagle like that, get myself up the leaderboard and stay within touching distance of the leaders. That was a nice way to finish.”

In McIlroy’s words, the birdie-eagle finish “glossed over a pretty average round”, although he confirmed his game remains in good enough shape to win. The world No 3 has come home runner-up four times in the past five years in Abu Dhabi, so he is clearly aiming to go one better this week.

He currently shares second with DeChambeau, the confident American who is making plenty of noise around the National Course. DeChambeau stands out for a number of reasons, such as his penchant for a flat cap and his college major in physics. Yet the fact his irons are cut all to the same size has certainly piqued interest. Not least with McIlroy.

“I was having a little go with his clubs this morning,” the Northern Irishman said. “He doesn’t know that. It’s obviously a technique that’s all his own and he’s got a pretty interesting background. He’s a great player and playing well. More than that I don’t really know, apart from he’s much smarter than I am.”

DeChambeau struggled to figure out the rest of his second round, though. Returning to play the back nine, following yet another fog delay, he went round in 1-over and therefore goes out in the final group late Saturday at 3.35pm.

Meanwhile, Henrik Stenson heads out just before, having finished his second round on 7-under. Rickie Fowler is one shot back, with world No 1 Jordan Spieth on 3-under following a 73.

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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Published: January 23, 2016 04:00 AM

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