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Rory McIlroy valiantly made a four up the par-five 18th at Yas Links for a birdie that should ensure he qualifies for the last two rounds at the Abu Dhabi Championship and then declared: “I have never been so glad to get off a golf course.”
Who could blame him? As days in the desert go, this was more Laurel and Hardy than Lawrence of Arabia, a Friday simply to survive rather than one on which to claim majesty.
With winds gusting up to 35mph, the field were left with hair coated in sand and scorecards covered in dropped shots. In the opening round, there were 35 scores in the 60s. In the second round, there was one.
Actually, as night fell there were 38 players still left to reach the halfway point. A 15-minute suspension was one reason; the almost impossible conditions another. McIlroy was clearly highly relieved to have finally made the clubhouse.
“I can’t remember when it’s been like this here before,” he said, after a 75. “I played in a couple of sandstorms in Dubai and a couple of mornings it’s been cold here in Abu Dhabi, but nothing like this. Have I done enough? I’ll find out tomorrow morning I guess, but hopefully I get to play the weekend and we’ll have a couple of calm days. I’d just like another two competitive days of play and see where I’m at.”
At least his up-and-down from 50 yards on the final hole has given him a chance. It was an especially gutsy effort as he was on a run of four bogeys at the time. “I feel like I’m hitting it well,” McIlroy said. “I hit it well on the range this morning. It’s all in there.”
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World No 2 Collin Morikawa is in the same boat as McIlroy after a 74 left him on three over par and breathing heavily just under the cut line.
No matter how rough the weather, there is always at least one golfer who manages to negotiate the hazards and this time the miracle worker was the Dane, Jeff Winther, whose outrageous 69 lifted him 45 places as he moved to four under and three off the pace set by Scott Jamieson.
The Scot’s 74 was 11 worse than his opening course record, but the 38-year-old was far from complaining. “I’m pretty happy, to be honest,” he said. “This is windier than Scotland and it was blooming cold as well. It was so tricky. Obviously hitting shots is not easy with all the gusts, but the hardest thing is putting. You get over the ball and you feel like you have to be so tense to stop everything from moving – but that’s the worst thing you can do when you’re trying to putt.”
Jamieson is one clear of Viktor Hovland, the Norwegian in a tie for second with two Englishman, James Morrison and Ian Poulter. The latter explained what made the experience all the more difficult.
“You don’t get to play in this kind of wind very often, especially when you’ve had nine weeks off and it’s never going to be this windy in the off-season, so you don’t really go and practise in it,” Poulter said, after his 72.
“It was kind of like, ‘God, it’s been a while since I’ve had to hit these type of shots’. In a way, it’s actually quite nice… chipping seven-irons from 120 yards and hitting three-woods from 217 yards You’ve got to go into the archive and try and remember some of the shots you’ve played in the past.”
Shane Lowry matched playing partner Poulter’s level-par morning to lie two shots off the lead and said: “I’m absolutely thrilled with 72.” Sweden’s Alexander Bjork is alongside Lowry on five under thanks to a 71 aided by converting an extraordinary 102ft birdie putt on the ninth.