Rory McIlroy has ended a frustrating second round with a birdie-eagle finish after landing approach shots inside two feet to move back into contention at the Abu Dhabi Championship.
Saturday’s stunning conclusion to a weather-hit round that McIlroy described as “pretty average” left him tied for second with American amateur Bryson DeChambeau (72), two shots behind England’s Andy Sullivan.
After making 15 pars and a bogey, McIlroy nearly holed a wedge shot on the 17th hole, before hitting a 5-wood from 268 yards to 18 inches on the last. He tapped in his eagle putt for a 70.
“I couldn’t hole one from outside two feet so I thought I’d hit a couple of shots within two feet,” McIlroy said with a smile.
Play started nearly three hours late because of thick morning fog, with McIlroy and playing partners Rickie Fowler and top-ranked Jordan Spieth among 60 players still to finish their second round following a weather-affected Friday.
The marquee group still had five holes to play but, while Spieth parred his way home and cut a frustrated figure on the 18th green after a one-over-par 73, McIlroy finally came to life after an erratic putting display up to the 17th.
“I said, ‘Let’s finish 3-3’,” the No.3-ranked McIlroy said, “and I was able to. I knew I needed something.”
Spieth is tied for 32nd on three-under, seven shots off the lead. The American had 31 putts and carded his first over-par round in 22 rounds.
DeChambeau, the eccentric physics student who plays with a home-made set of irons that are all the same length and calls himself “the golf scientist”, resumed his round on his 10th hole at nine under – one shot behind Sullivan. He started bogey-birdie, and dropped another shot on his way in.
The reigning US Amateur and NCAA champion is bidding to become the first amateur to win on the European Tour since Shane Lowry at the 2009 Irish Open.
“I was having a little go with his clubs this morning – he doesn’t know that,” McIlroy said of DeChambeau, who he will partner in the third round. “It’s obviously a technique that’s all his own and he has a pretty interesting background. Apart from that, I don’t really know (much about him), except that he’s much smarter than I am.”
There was plenty of low scoring after the fog. Robert Rock, the 2012 champion, shot a 67 and was tied for fourth on seven under with South Korea’s Byeong-Hun An (68), No.5-ranked Henrik Stenson (72), Thomas Bjorn (69) and David Howell (69). Joost Luiten (68) and Rafael Cabrera-Bello (67) were on the same score after finishing their second rounds on Friday.
Rickie Fowler (68) and Martin Kaymer (69) were in a group a shot further back.
Wade Ormsby is the best-placed Australian after rounds of 68 and 71, one stroke ahead of Brett Rumford (68, 72)