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Top guns battling to stay alive in blustery Abu Dhabi

(From left) Tyrrell Hatton, Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood and their caddies walk on the 12th fairway during the second round of the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship on Friday. (AP)
(From left) Tyrrell Hatton, Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood and their caddies walk on the 12th fairway during the second round of the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship on Friday. (AP)

The round was yet to finish when darkness suspended play, but there was carnage by then



By Joy Chakravarty

Published: Fri 21 Jan 2022, 9:00 PM

On what would rank as one of the toughest days in the history of golf in the UAE, ferocious wind ripped through the reputation of Europe’s finest.

After the opening round when a nine-under par 63 was made to look easy by leader Scott Jamieson, birdies became as rare and valuable as oasis in the desert. A consistent wind of 24-30 miles per hour blew throughout the day, making it difficult for players to stand over their shots at time. Balls were oscillating on the green, making conditions borderline unplayable at times. Thankfully, the wind stayed just short of moving the balls, which would have forced the Tour to stop play.

The round was yet to finish when darkness suspended play, but there was carnage by then.

World number two Collin Morikawa (3-over 147) was way outside the cutline after his morning round, but moved inside by the end of the day. World number eight Rory McIlroy, also at three-over after two rounds, needed to make a crucial birdie on his last hole to prolong his stay in the $8 million Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship into the weekend.

Unlike Thursday’s opening round, when 74 players posted red numbers, only five players have submitted sub-par cards so far – four of them at one-under par 71. Denmark’s Jeff Winther’s round of three-under par 69 was worth its weight in gold under the circumstances. His reward was a jump of 45 place on the leaderboard inside the top-10.

While everyone else was trying to hold on to their hats and belongings, Jamieson somehow conjured a late birdie on the 8th hole (his 17th) to finish on two-over par for the day. At seven-under par total, he was one ahead of the chasing pack of Norwegian Viktor Hovland (74), the world number seven, and England’s Ian Poulter (72).

Another Englishman, James Morrison, was also on six-under par total, but he had four holes to finish when play was suspended.

Former Open champion Shane Lowry (72) was joined by Thomas Pieters (74) and his Japanese playing partner Takumi Kanaya (73) in tied fifth place. Swede Alexander Björk shot one of the rare 71s in the afternoon session to join them five-under par.

McIlroy, a veteran when it comes to playing golf in the UAE, summed up the conditions perfectly.

“I can’t remember when it’s been like this here. I played in a couple of sandstorms in Dubai and a couple of mornings it’s been cold in Abu Dhabi, but there has never been anything like this,” the Holywood-born golfer said.

Leader Jamieson added that putting was most tricky in these conditions.

“It certainly wasn’t easy. We knew the forecast but when you’re in your hotel room in the morning and the locker room, and it being a clear day, you think it’s a little easier. But then you experience it when you get out there,” said the 38-year-old.

“Obviously, hitting shots is tricky with all the gusts but the hardest thing is putting. You get over the ball and you feel like you’ve got to be so tense to stop everything moving but that’s the worst thing you can do when you’re trying to putt. I holed a lot of really good putts from inside five feet today which kept my score respectable.”

Poulter added: “I’ve got to be honest. You look at the forecast and you felt the wind as strong as it was, you’d have thought the ball would be moving but we didn’t have any balls moving on the green.

“You had to back off because you were getting blown around, but the ball wasn’t really moving, which was a surprise. So, it was just a case of hanging in there. It’s early in the season, you haven’t hit those shots for quite some time and you’re fighting the wind. It’s really tricky.”

The round resumes at 7:30am on Saturday. The third-round draw will be out after all players finish their second round.


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