Laporta opens door in Abu Dhabi with 63

Dave Tindall
Rotoworld

Recap of the day

Morning wave: For the second day running, Matthew Fitzpatrick toured Abu Dhabi GC without making a single bogey. With five birdies on his Friday card, the 67 took him into the outright lead on 9-under. But while Fitzpatrick thrived, playing partner Bryson DeChambeau failed to make a single birdie. Two doubles and a bogey led to a 77 and a missed cut (by five shots). HaoTong Li continued his push with a 69 to sit one back while Lee Westwood (68) and Kurt Kitayama (70) moved to 7-under. But it was a morning to forget for joint-R1 leader Shaun Norris, who followed his 64 with a 77 to drop seven back. Sweden's Sebastian Soderberg fired the third 64 of the week, at one point connecting six birdies.

Afternoon wave: The lead appeared to be holding up well but there were some late moves. The most dramatic came from Francesco Laporta, who birdied the final five holes to complete a 9-under 63 and take sole possession of the halfway lead on 10-under. Dubai resident Rafa Cabrera Bello joined Fitzpatrick in T2 via a 68 while Sergio Garcia (69) and Renato Paratore (72) finished at 8-under to make it a three-way tie with Li for T4. Louis Oosthuizen maintained his challenge at 7-under thanks to a 68 but there will be no defense for last year's winner Shane Lowry, who made a mess of the last hole and crashed out after a bogey-bogey (5-6) finish.

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R2 Leaderboard: -10 Francesco Laporta, -9 Matthew Fitzpatrick, Rafa Cabrera Bello, -8 HaoTong Li, Sergio Garcia, Renato Paratore, -7 Kurt Kitayama, Lee Westwood, Patrick Cantlay, Louis Oosthuizen, Adri Arnaus.

Notables: -6 Thomas Pieters, Bernd Wiesberger, -4 Branden Grace, -3 Brooks Koepka, Tommy Fleetwood, Martin Kaymer.

Cut: 73 players made it through on -1 or better. 

Missed cut: Evs Viktor Hovland, Shane Lowry, +1 Charl Schwartzel, +2 Danny Willett, Ian Poulter, +5 Bryson DeChambeau

Low round of the day: 63 Francesco Laporta

Revised outright betting

9/2 Fitzpatrick, 13/2 Cantlay, 8/1 Cabrera Bello, 9/1 Oosthuizen, Garcia, 16/1 Li, 18/1 Laporta, 22/1 Pieters, 25/1 Wiesberger, 28/1 Kitayama.

 

Saturday weather forecast

The temperature rises a little on Moving Day, the mercury moving up towards the 80s. There's some wind but nothing too much (6-8mph) and it may even drop a little in late afternoon.

 

Leaders after at 36 holes

Francesco Laporta (63) – The Italian missed his first two cuts of the season in South Africa and and didn't do much yesterday in a 1-under 71. But impressive progress today (birdies at 2, 3, 9 and 11) turned into something much more over the final five holes as he birdied them all to be home in 30 and hit double digits under par. 

Matthew Fitzpatrick (67) – Five birdies and 13 pars for a second blemish-free lap of Abu Dhabi GC. Fitzpatrick was irked by his lack of a win last season (finished runner-up four times) so he may have some extra drive on the weekend as he seeks a second win in the United Arab Emirates following his victory in the 2016 DP World Tour Championship.

Rafa Cabrera Bello (68) – The Spaniard, who lives here in the UAE over the winter, has six top 20s at Abu Dhabi GC, two of those top tens. Like Fitzpatrick, he has a win in the Middle East (Dubai Desert Classic) and he's set up for another crack after taking flight from the 8th with five birdies in six holes.

 

Fate of the favorites

Brooks Koepka found it easy in round one but the lack of tournament golf caught up with him today as multiple visits to sand led to a 75 and dropped him to T35. Tommy Fleetwood is also at -3 overall after a frustrating day on the greens (he's made just five birdies in 36 holes) but Patrick Cantlay made a serious move, leaping 43 spots to T7 after a 66 and that included a walk-off bogey-6 at 18. Louis Oosthuizen is alongside Cantlay on 7-under, just two back, after a 68.

 

Quotes

Francesco Laporta (63): "I played solid. I played solid all 18 holes. My putting was solid, my driver, my irons. I gave myself a lot of opportunity for birdies, and so when I had the opportunities, I took it. Every time I was putting for birdie, I made it. It was a great day."

Matthew Fitzpatrick (67): "For the first week of the year, to have no bogeys, couldn't ask for a better start, really. Yeah, just played really disciplined golf and it's worked out well so far."

Rafa Cabrera Bello (68): "Very pleased again for being able to post a really good round. I like how the round went from less to more, as in improving throughout the day and holing some really, really long putts that for sure gave me a lot of momentum. Also playing some very good golf particularly on the last holes." 

HaoTong Li (69): "Similar to yesterday. It's been grind whole day, and I mean, especially last few holes is not that easy. My short game improved a lot over last year, and I think that's the reason I get the result, I get a lot of up-and-down from there."

Sergio Garcia (69): "I felt like I played fairly well. A couple nervous shots early on, but other than that, felt quite good. Hit a good amount of good shots. I hit some good putts and a couple really nice up-and-downs and a couple nice birdies here and there. Overall, it was a solid day."

Lee Westwood (68): "The swing feels like there's a bit more width into it and I've driven the ball well. Putting lovely. Rolling the ball nicely, and you know, not really hitting any bad shots. Not putting myself under any pressure."

Brooks Koepka (75): "Just timing was a bit off. Didn't hit that many good shots the last 15 holes. Good on the first two but other than that, it was a bit of a disaster. Going to go to the range and just figure it out, just a little bit of time..Everyone like's to make an excuse, it's just me." 

 

Road to victory at Abu Dhabi GC

2019 – Shane Lowry R1: 1st, R2: 1st, R3: 1st
2018 – Tommy Fleetwood R1: 1st, R2: 3rd, R3: 4th
2017 – Tommy Fleetwood R1: 6th, R2: 3rd, R3: 2nd
2016 – Rickie Fowler R1: 29th, R2: 11th, R3: 1st
2015 – Gary Stal R1: 14th, R2: 8th, R3: 5th

Notes: In the 14 editions of this event, the eventual winner has been in the top five at halfway on ten occasions. The biggest comeback was six shots in 2015 when Gary Stal pulled off a shock win.

 

Fate of the second-round leaders at Abu Dhabi GC – where did they finish?

2019 Shane Lowry 1st
2018 Thomas Pieters 5th
2017 Martin Kaymer 4th
2016 Andy Sullivan 22nd
2015 Martin Kaymer 3rd

Notes: While four first-round leaders have lifted the trophy, only three 36-hole pacesetters have gone on to win - Shane Lowry last year and Martin Kaymer twice (2008 and 2011). Three halfway leaders have finished outside the top 20.

 

Focus on – Francesco Laporta

At 29 years of age, Laporta is no spring chicken. Then again, another Italian named Francesco didn't flourish until his 30s so there's plenty of time yet. Laporta may be 0-for-2 on the European Tour this season but he still has a bunch of confidence after winning two of his final three starts on the Challenge Tour in 2019, including the season-ending Grand Final in early November. In that event, held in Spain, he also held a one-shot lead at halfway and managed to close it out with rounds of 70 and 71. This is a big step up but don't just expect him to vanish.

 

Focus on – The Desert-Major link

2016 Danny Willett wins Dubai Desert Classic, goes on to win 2016 Masters

2017 Sergio Garcia wins Dubai Desert Classic, goes on to win 2017 Masters

2019 Shane Lowry wins Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, goes on to win 2019 Open Championship

Yep, land an early-season desert event and it could set you up for a first major win. Take close note of the winner here and at next week's Dubai Desert Classic.

 

Focus on – The American Express

A desert is supposed to make conditions tough for plants and animals to thrive but that's not the case at PGA WEST and La Quinta Country Club. These desert tracks are yielding lots of scoring through two days and we should expect plenty more over the next two days. 

Round 2: The lowest round recorded on Thursday was an 8-under 64, by Zac Blair and Grayson Murray. With the rust shaken off, there were four golfers that took it even lower and signed a scorecard better than 64 today. The lowest was Tony Finau's 10-under 62 to match his career-low round (9-under 62 in R3 of the 2019/20 Shriners). Finau birdied seven of the final nine holes at the Nicklaus Tournament Course to accomplish that feat on Friday. Others to impress with low rounds were Ted Potter, Jr. (63, LQ), Brandon Hagy (63, LQ), and Charley Hoffman (63, NT). There was another group of five golfers that fired round of 64 (Fowler, Scheffler, Landry, Cauley, Martin). 

Diving into the course draw, let's look at the current state of the top 10 on the leaderboard to see which courses they've played so far. There are 11 golfers at 11-under or better and seven of them started on La Quinta and played NT in round two. Three of them started on the Stadium Course and played LQ today. Only one (Cam Davis) played the Nick Tourney Course on Thursday. Tomorrow will be the true test as each golfer will complete their set on the three-course rota. 

Here is a look at the R1 & R2 scoring averages by course: 

Stadium Course at PGA WEST: 70.65, 70.37 (-1.49 RTP)
Nicklaus Tournament Course at PGA WEST: 69.64, 68.92 (-2.72 RTP)
La Quinta Country Club: 69.58, 68.92 (-2.60 RTP)

R2 leaderboard: -15 Rickie Fowler, Scottie Scheffler; -14 Andrew Landry; -13 Tony Finau; -12 Bud Cauley

Revised Outright Betting: 5/2 Rickie Fowler; 7/2 Scottie Scheffler; 7/1 Tony Finau; 9/1 Andrew Landry; 14/1 Sungjae Im; 20/1 Bud Cauley

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