The Abu Dhabi Championship has afforded us a fresh interpretation of the desert swing. Whereas Thursday belonged to Rory McIlroy, courtesy of a superb 64, Tyrrell Hatton strode forward to place himself in a formidable tournament position 24 hours later. McIlroy, incredibly, finds himself five adrift of the inspired Englishman.
There are asterisks attached to that status. The overhang from a fog delay on Thursday morning means Hatton, McIlroy and batches of others must return early on Saturday to complete their second round. Hatton is 12 under par and will restart from a fairway bunker on the 14th, with McIlroy on the 15th as the horn blew. Jason Scrivener and Jazz Janewattananond have completed 36 holes while matching McIlroy’s seven under. McIlroy is the only one of the top 23 players to sit over par – one, to be precise – for his round. Hatton, who is five under for his 13 holes, seized the opportunity despite testing winds.
“I’m obviously in a great position at the moment,” said Hatton. “It was certainly tough out there, so I’m really happy to be five under. I holed some nice putts and there were a couple par putts toward the end of my round; it was nice to hole them and keep a bit of momentum going.”
Hatton’s excellent putting has been a shock to the man himself. “I haven’t actually done much short game work,” he said. “It’s been weird. The last three weeks I’ve been hitting balls again. I was mainly focusing on long game. It’s a little bit of a surprise to see my short game as good as it has been last two days but obviously I need that to continue.”
Having finished round two, Tommy Fleetwood can enjoy a Saturday lie-in. Fleetwood added a 67 to day one’s 71 in moving to six under. After something of a mix-and-match history with equipment – Fleetwood used Nike irons before they were withdrawn from the market – he has signed with TaylorMade. Having played his first 11 holes in plus three, Fleetwood is nine under for the following 25.
“Today has given me a lot of confidence,” Fleetwood said. “The new ball is great. I drove it brilliantly today. I’m hitting my irons really, really well. Work is going well and the equipment is going well. But you always need that proof, really, and I don’t think you’ll get many tougher days where you test it, so it’s all good.”
Having moved to one under for the tournament, Justin Thomas should be spared the ignominy of a missed cut provided he has no Saturday morning slip-ups. Shane Lowry, Martin Kaymer and Ian Poulter seem almost certain to have their event restricted to 36 holes.