Pieters knocks birthday boy Fleetwood off
...Photographs by Getty Images...
ON Friday, 19 January 2018, in Abu
Dhabi, UAE: Belgium's Ryder Cup sensation Thomas Pieters' bogey free 65 made him
the man of the moment as he soared to the top of leader board in round 2 of the
Abu Dhabi HSBC
Championship presented by EGA.
Pieters finished at 12 under, 1 ahead of Spain's Jorge Campillo who added a 64
to Thursday's 69, to finish on 11 under. Round one leader and reigning champion
Tommy Fleetwood, who celebrated his 27th birthday today, is well placed on 10
under, alongside fellow Englishman Ross Fisher and Frenchman Alexander Levy.
Paul Casey, who has won 2 previous Championships, sits at 9 under, while World
Number 1 Dustin Johnson will fancy his chances at 8 under, after shooting a
flawless 64 to get into contention.
An early start suited Pieters, as he claimed two birdies in his 1st 4
holes. He finished the round dramatically chipping in from the bunker on his
18th hole (9th hole) to secure his 7th birdie of the day. Asked if he expected
to start his first event of 2018 so well, Pieters said:- "Not really! We
have a decent game plan. I'm in a positive mind set, keeping calm, knowing I've
done well here in the past and that the course suits me. The greens are perfect,
the weather's perfect. I'm ball striking well and I hit 16 greens today. That
all helps. Off the tee was decent and I rolled in a couple of putts which was
nice. So now I am going to eat, practise, and make sure I don't hook and slice
anymore, and I'll be ready for tomorrow."
The 31 year old, Spaniard Jorge Campillo, tied
the low round of the day with an impressive 64, a shot behind Pieters, to take
him into 2nd place on 11 under. Campillo said:- "I always like to come
here to Abu Dhabi and play golf. I've had a Top 10 here, and I normally play
well. So I do like the course. I think it's a fair course. It's tough but it's
playing easy, but it can play hard with the wind. It seems having practised hard
this winter that the work is paying off. Brit Ross Fisher produced another solid
round of 67, matching his efforts of 5 under on day 1. Fisher soon got into his
stride and didn't let a bogey on the 6th put him off, as he went on to hole 6
birdies, including his last 2 holes. Today felt marginally better and was
another solid day. I didn't really miss many shots, except that sloppy bogey
playing the 6th. But I'm obviously delighted with the 2 days' work, all safely
through to the weekend."
English compatriot Paul Casey, who has twice been a winner here,
shot a 7 under par 65, which included an eagle and 5 birdies, is at 9 under for
the Championship. >>>
Continued in opposite column... >>>
<<< Continued from
opposite column... <<< The 40 year old Englishman
re-joined the European Tour towards the end of 2017, having not played for more
than 2 seasons. He said:- "Today was really good. I dialled things in and
shot 5 better. I'm not a morning person, but the golf course was perfect this
morning: just a little softer, greens less fierce. This course is so well
prepared that guys are going to make putts. Personally, I know this course well
and I think that's the thing; I know how to get around it. I know where I
struggle around this golf course. I know where I can capitalise with the
strengths of my game. Every hole it seems like I've got good memories of, so it
really is drawing from some of those past experiences. But I think the biggest
motivation is the fact that Kaymer has got three Championship titles and I've
only got 2! So I would love to equal that record this week."
1 of the most popular groupings of the day was
the headline trio of World Number 1 Dustin Johnson, 4 time Major winner Rory
McIlroy and reigning champion, Southport's Tommy Fleetwood (UK). Fleetwood
managed a 68 while Johnson and McIlroy finished rounds of 64 and 66
respectively, with McIlroy bagging a timely Eagle on the 18th. Commenting on his
performance, McIlroy added:- "I tried to stay as patient as possible and I
now feel so much closer to the lead. The 1st 2 days I've been really, really
happy. Today was an improvement on yesterday just in terms of scoring and I'm
glad I made the eagle on the last. I'm right in the mix after 2 days, and you
know, I'm happy to be in that position. I feel like I've got a really good
chance this weekend."
The Olympic trio of Justin Rose, Henrik
Stenson and Matt Kuchar struggled to keep up with the headlining pack. Justin
Rose and Matt Kuchar just managed to make the cut, both finishing the day T57 on
2 under. Stenson fared better ending T21, 6 under and still in contention ahead
of day 3.
The home grown talent of Championship invitees Ahmed Al Musharrekh, Tom Buchanan
and Dan Kirkwood mustered up strong support on day 2 of their campaigns.
Although unable to make the cut, Buchanan brought with him a voluble crowd of
supporters from his home club of Al Ain. Accompanied by the applause 1 might
expect for a professional top 10 player, Buchanan finished on the 9th green with
great cheers from his friends and family.
Buchanan described his 2nd round performance as "ropey," but was
quick to appreciate the following he's gained:- "Unbelievable. Incredible.
There's a big following from everywhere, which is obviously great, and for them
to be here is something I'll never forget."
Ahmed Al Musharrekh, the Championship's 27 year old, Emirati qualifier explained
that he played:- "much better than yesterday" and that he was
already looking forward to next year. He stressed the value of being an
ambassador for aspiring Emirati golfers, saying:- "It's a real privilege
to be here and to be a national. Hopefully we can get more UAE national juniors
into the game and more players from the national team competing at this
The Championship's only amateur entry, 32 year old Dan Kirkwood, couldn't quite
replicate his previous day's form. The UAE resident could only post a round of
81, ending on an overall 11 over par. Reflecting on his performance and having
the opportunity to play against the world's best Kirkwood said:- "All
things considered it was an amazing experience. Playing in front of that many
people was not what I was used to and I think that showed. But it was fun
nonetheless, particularly the local support. A load of children from the school
where I teach at came to watch me, so that was brilliant, along with my family
who have flown in especially to support me. I hope I can inspire some of the
children at my School to now get into golf having now seen me play. Some of them
even asked me for autographs, which was weird! But it was so much fun and I'd
love to be back here in Abu Dhabi playing again next year."
The tournament saw a bumper crowd on:- 'Ladies Day', as visitors
soaked up the sun and activities within the Village. A highlight of the day saw
lucky Championship goer Jennifer Cullen win a trip for 2 to Milan Fashion Week
thanks to Etihad Airways in the highly contested:- 'Best Dressed'
competition, judged by Emirates Woman magazine.
The 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship presented by EGA runs until 21 January
2018, with Abu Dhabi Sports Council (ADSC)
looking to top 2016 turnout of more than 69,000 spectators. The 2017 tournament
grew the championship's social media following by more than 65% and the HD TV
coverage, with a potential reach of almost half a billion viewers, allowed a
global audience to watch the world's best vie for the coveted Falcon Trophy and
a share in the US $3 million prize purse.