Martin Kaymer in familiar territory atop Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship leaderboard

Martin Kaymer leads the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship at the halfway stage for the fourth time in nine visits. No wonder he describes it as his "favourite golf course".
Martin Kaymer tees off at the 8th hole during the second round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. Andrew Redington / Getty Images
Martin Kaymer tees off at the 8th hole during the second round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. Andrew Redington / Getty Images

ABU DHABI // Two days around the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is proof that, for Martin Kaymer at least, practice does make perfect.

The German, a three-time winner of the event, put himself in pole position on Friday to add another, shooting a second successive 66 to lead the tournament by one at the halfway stage. Blatantly, it must be beneficial playing somewhere you absolutely adore.

“I don’t try to push at all,” said Kaymer, who eagled the eighth and then reeled off six birdies and a bogey on his back nine. “I just try to enjoy playing my favourite golf course. Once in a while, when a putt drops in, you catch momentum and you can make another three or four birdies coming in, like it happened today.”

So much for off-season rust. You couldn’t tell it had been seven weeks since Kaymer last swung a club competitively, especially when he chipped in for birdie on the 14th, or holed a monster putt on 16 to join Rafa Cabrero Bello at the summit on 11-under par. A birdie on 18 took him one clear.

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So almost two months between events does not necessarily have to be a bad thing, apparently. Then again, Kaymer did spend the intervening period working hard on his game.

“I’m not quite a hundred per cent happy yet with how I played,” said the two-time major champion, probably to the dismay of the rest of the field. “There’s a few things here and there, but we always have those little things if you’re a perfectionist. Overall, I think it’s paid off fairly well so far.”

Hasn’t it just? It marks the fourth time in nine appearances that Kaymer has led at the halfway stage in Abu Dhabi. Of course, the most recent was 2015, when he inexplicably blew a 10-shot lead on Sunday to eventually finish third. Going into the weekend, then, he can draw on a number of lessons learned.

“I have all kind of experience on that golf course: very good ones, and a couple poor ones,” said Kaymer, who has not won since sealing his second major, in 2014. “I learned from the US Open, and it worked out for me very well that I approach every day as a new day and don’t compare to what happened the last day or on Thursday. And that’s the same way I will try to approach tomorrow.”

In his way, stands Cabrera Bello, while Paul Dunne, Tommy Fleetwood and Kiradech Aphibarnrat are only two back, and world No 4 Henrik Stenson part of a four-way group three off the pace. Cabrera Bello represents the most immediate danger, though, after the Spaniard shot 66 in the “very, very scoreable” morning conditions to post the early clubhouse lead.

A former Omega Dubai Desert Classic champion and now based in the emirate, he is obviously pretty comfortable in these surroundings, too.

“I always said it: I like playing in warm weather, I like playing in breezy conditions and I like watching palm trees and being under the sun,” Cabrera Bello said. “Who doesn’t? It reminds me of home, of the Canary Islands. If I break it down to that, I think that’s probably why I’m happy living here.”

Stenson couldn’t enjoy the setting quite as much. The Swede, who arrived in the capital on Tuesday without a lot of practice, struggled during his second round to post an up-and-down 71.

“I felt a little slow all day,” Stenson said. “I think I had my best night’s sleep, nine hours straight, and felt the worst I’ve been all week. Just a day, not too much going for me, but no catastrophes early so we’re still at the races.”​

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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Published: January 20, 2017 04:00 AM

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