Rory McIlroy keeps good company and tidy scorecard on return

Sunday, 21 Jan, 2018

Playing alongside Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, Europe's No 1 player in 2017 shot what would normally have been regarded as a commendable 68, four under par, in the second round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

McIlroy, playing his first event since October, finished with eagle on the par-5 18th for 66 and was three behind Pieters.

McIlroy added a 66 to his opening 69 and completed 36 holes without a single bogey on his card in his first competitive start since October previous year, although he managed only one birdie over seven par-fives until atoning in style towards the end of day two.

"It would mean a lot". "I think I'm going to struggle to find a better three ball", said the Englishman.

"If someone had said to me at the start of the week, you can go off in the last couple of groups and have a chance going into Sunday, I'd have said "I'd love to do that". Previous year I felt like I had a lot of in between clubs a lot of times, but it was more just me not being comfortable taking something off a club or trying to hit one a little bit harder. But if Murphy continues to hit shots like that, he may end up creating a lot more memories as a professional himself. "Ball-striking was good, but the rest of it was decent today", said Pieters.

Further birdies followed at the 10th, 12th and 14th before he dropped his first shot of the week at the par-three 15th when he took two attempts to get out of a greenside bunker, although he still holed an excellent bogey putt from the fringe. I've been working hard on the game, but the golf swing feels like it's finally getting back to where it was. I hit it really well, it was just really solid all day long.

He later added: "I felt that eagle was something I deserved for staying patient".

With the Southport native nicely poised at the halfway point as he looks to win the competition in the UAE for the first time, Fleetwood insisted birthday celebrations would be fairly muted. That's what's nice. I'm back in the tournament and it's something at the start of the year that I wanted to do is contend more. It's the first event of the year, and this is exactly where I want to be.

"I've just got to go out there and let it freeflow and be quite aggressive, keep my foot down and hole a few because momentum-wise it makes the world of difference".