Veterans on the march
Last Updated: 18/01/14 10:53am
Thomas Bjorn: Chasing a "Desert Slam"
Ewen Murray continues to be impressed by a trio of Ryder Cup captains after the second day of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
Paul McGinley, Colin Montgomerie and Jose Maria Olazabal all made it safely through to the weekend, but Henrik Stenson was a major casualty.
Ewen also paid tribute to tournament organisers for the course set-up, with the thick rough placing a premium on accuracy from tee to green.
Ewen said: "The first players to make a move were former Ryder Cup captains Colin Montgomerie and Jose Maria Olazabal, who turned in 33 to progress to two and one under respectively. Paul McGinley put some steady scores together after yesterday's sparkling 68, and a 72 has him four under going into the weekend while his predecessors join him in round three.
"Another 40-something, Thomas Bjorn enjoyed four birdies in five holes around the turn to charge into contention. This is the only title Thomas is missing on the Desert Swing, and a 67 has him in good shape.
"With the pin positions a fraction easier than on day one, the early scoring was hot. Danny Willett reached the turn in 31 and two birdies in the last four saw him round in 63, just one outside Henrik Stenson's 2006 course record.
"Stenson continued to struggle and a round of 72 left him at two over, which turned out to be two too many to progress to Saturday.
"At lunchtime, we had a new leader. Craig Lee has come through the ranks as assistant professional, Tartan Tour and Challenge Tour player and is a latecomer to the main Tour.
"Last year he hunted down Bjorn at Crans Sur Sierre before losing to the Dane in a play-off. Rounds of 68 and 67 had Craig looking down on the rest on nine under.
"The tournament had its first eagle. A spectacular holed second shot at the par-four 11th courtesy of Alvaro Quiros and he would make it two after a three at the long eighth. A welcome return to form for the likeable Spaniard, who has won the Dubai World Championship and the Dubai Desert Classic.
"After a brief stop for lunch, the Sky Sports cameras were focused on Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson and defending champion, Jamie Donaldson.
"Rory opened up with a classy birdie, Phil a bogey, but Mickelson finally broke his duck at the third when his first birdie of the championship arrived via a fairway bunker.
"Sergio Garcia had much to do after a first-round 76, and he opened up with three birdies in the first six holes to claw his way back. But three-time winner Martin Kaymer went the other way with four bogeys in the first third of the round.
"Great players know how and when to dig deep. Kaymer, Garcia and Mickelson kept plugging away, waiting on something good to happen and it duly did. All safely made the cut.
"A year ago, Rory was in a bad place - new clubs, loss of confidence and a missed cut. What a difference here as we saw the Rory of old. His swing has returned to free-flowing and the confidence is flooding back. The bounce is back in his step and his back-nine 31 was the equal best of the day. That outstanding passage of play has him within two of the lead.
"Once again, this wonderful course, designed by Peter Harradine, was the star of the show with the emphasis on accuracy rather than distance.
"Mickelson and Garcia hinted the rough was too thick and could cause injuries. No player has a divine right to have a shot to the green when the tee shot is 30 yards from the middle of the fairway. The player hitting the fairway should have an advantage.
"I'm a huge fan of the R&A and USGA, but if they are not going to listen to Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer and slow the ball down or reduce the head size of the drivers, then something has to be done to protect the game and the wonderful iconic courses across the globe.
"I welcome a course set-up like Abu Dhabi and, at the halfway stage, there is a variety of players challenging and the poorer drivers have a weekend off.