Positive thinking helps put Thomas Pieters out in front at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship
The Belgian will take a one-shot lead into Saturday's third round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.
Determined to maintain a sense of calm, Thomas Pieters twice tested his own resolve on Friday.
The Belgian, one of the game's longest hitters, can sometimes display a bluster to go with his ballast off the tee, but on the second day of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, presented by EGA, he kept cool in serene conditions to take the 36-hole lead.
A fine and flawless 65 lifted Pieters to 12-under, and gives him a one-shot advantage going into the third round. Spain’s Jorge Campillo is his closest challenger, with defending champion Tommy Fleetwood, Ross Fisher and Alexander Levy one back on 10-under. Rory McIlroy, meanwhile, headlines a four-strong group three shots off top spot.
It is some cast, but Pieters represents the man to beat at present. He posted seven birdies and no bogeys on his way to the summit, which seems a rather decent way to remain in good spirits.
A chip-in from the bunker on his final hole, after a “terrible” slice with driver and a “quick hook” with 6-iron, helped stave off any demons.
“There's little things I do, that I tell myself,” Pieters said. “I'm not going to share, but just like to keep a positive mindset and then to forget if I hit a bad shot.
“On the last, prime example. Two terrible shots and I finished with a good one.”
He had plenty of others goodies, too. Stellar ball-striking ensured Pieters found 16 of 18 greens in regulation, while the putter was behaving well enough to pick up three shots on his front nine and four on the back.
Add to that the fact he likes Abu Dhabi, having finished second in 2015 and fourth two years ago.
“We have a decent game plan,” Pieters said. “I've done well here in the past and it suits me. We hit driver wherever we can and the rest of it, you know, it's good ball-striking and going at a couple flags with wedges when you have them that you need to do that.”
That explains why he did not want to deviate from the strategy too much heading into the final two days.
“Going to eat, practice, that’s it," Pieters said, before adding: "Make sure I don't hit quick hook and slices anymore and we'll be ready.”
He will go out last on Saturday alongside Campillo. The Spaniard had actually gone one better than Pieters in his second round, carding a 64 that comprised eight birdies.
Second in the standings, like Pieters Campillo is hoping to use past performances as motivation for his own tilt at the title. On debut in Abu Dhabi in 2013, he finished ninth.
“I always like to come here to the Emirates and play golf,” said Campillo, who arrived at the tournament on the back of a tied-12th in South Africa. “I have a top-10 here, and I normally play good around here. So I do like the course.
“I played good last week. Practicing hard this winter and I'm glad the work is paying off.”
Fisher has been in fine fettle recently as well. Last Sunday, he was playing an integral role in Europe winning the EurAsia Cup in Malaysia. Back to his bread and butter, he has continued to impress, registering successive 67s in the capital.
“It really helped playing last week the EurAsia Cup and coming to Dubai the week before, as well, for four days' practice,” Fisher said. “Didn't feel rusty at all. I've carried on the good form from the back end of last season.
“Drove it pretty well today. Got a new driver in the bag for this week. Chipping was getting better and nice to see a few putts drop. So two rounds of 5-under, obviously very pleased."
Updated: January 19, 2018 05:56 PM