x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Numbers still add up on a day of mixed fortunes in Abu Dhabi

Danish 22-year-old Thorbjorn Olesen lead golf tournament, while Rory McIlroy hits a 72 despite a series of bogeys and penalty.

Luke Donald, Rory Mcllroy and Tiger Woods played together for the second round.
Luke Donald, Rory Mcllroy and Tiger Woods played together for the second round.

ABU DHABI // Measuring by population, the teeming leaderboard halfway through the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship boasts 39 players under par and within six shots of the front. Measuring by rankings, it shouts six of the top 25 players on earth.

Measuring by CVs, it has seven major winners, plus people with the names Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald.

Measuring by starlight, it revels in close contention from Rory McIlroy with his carnival of golf possibilities and Tiger Woods with his refurbished sharpness.

By any measure, the weekend at Abu Dhabi Golf Club does look considerably north of dull.

"It's not many years ago I was watching them on TV," said the Danish 22-year-old Thorbjorn Olesen, and he led the thing at seven under after his seven-birdie, two-bogey round shone with a daydream 32 outward nine.

Matteo Manassero, the 18-year-old Italian, celebrated "the best [round] in maybe the last six months" as he barrelled to six under after a 65, troubled with only 21 putts including a par save from yonder on 17.

"Still haven't dropped a shot, which is nice," said Gareth Maybin from the golf stratosphere of Northern Ireland, and his 36 holes with zero bogeys left him tucked next to Manassero.

Bigger noise rumbled beneath, with McIlroy and Woods at five under, and came even from a golf course that spoke up for itself after Martin Kaymer's lavish winning scores of 2010 (21-under par) and 2011 (24-under).

It ordered the three-time champion to get lost after his 73 that followed a 77.

"The course is much tougher; the rough, it's much thicker," said Garcia, whose four-under par found him alongside the reigning Masters champion, Charl Schwartzel and, a certain Padraig Harrington, winless on the European Tour since his Open-PGA major double of summer 2008.

"I'll be happy if I keep playing like I played the last two days for the rest of the year," said Irishman Harrington, who is freshly 40.

Galleries will be happy if McIlroy keeps playing like he did yesterday in a one-man assault on tedium. In 18 holes, he managed to cram in seven birdies - making it 13 for the tournament - and two bogeys and two double bogeys and one two-shot penalty for an unfortunate little turn of housecleaning on No 9.

"I mean, my ball was just maybe six feet off the green and there was a lot of sand in between my ball and the hole," McIlroy said. "I just brushed the sand and Luke [Donald] was, like, 'I don't think you can brush sand off the fringe.' And I'm, like, 'Oh, yeah, you're right.'" The boo-boo bothered him so greatly that he birdied three of the next five holes.

Not many people can bogey No 1 in two fairway bunkers, double-bogey No 3, accidentally breach the arcane sand rules on No 9, bogey No 11 and still shoot 72 but, then, one of those people saw McIlroy up close the first two days, will see him in the same group again today, has won 14 major titles and certainly looks about as refreshed as at any time since it is-hard-to-remember.

Of Woods, McIlroy said, "He's definitely got the ball under control. He seems comfortable. He's only had a couple bogeys in two days. He's not making many mistakes and he's very consistent. His ball flight looks good. Really looking forward to battling over the weekend."

Told he seems to hit the ball in 2012 with less effort yet more oomph, Woods said: "Correct."

He cited the improvement of his club-head positioning and told of "12 months more knowledge" with the swing coach Sean Foley since contending halfway through and then tapering off last February in Dubai.

He spoke of putting better than on Thursday when he found the greens only faintly legible and said, "I'm playing well." That alone tends to promise a good weekend, yet it has scores of company.

cculpepper@thenational.ae