Harrington keeps an eye on McIlroy

Padraig Harrington fired a second round 66 to keep Rory McIlroy in his sights in the Abu Dhabi Championship.

McIlroy, 19, completed a first round 66 to tie for the lead and then added a bogey free 69 in the afternoon to finish the day just two shots behind leaders Richard Green and Graeme Storm on nine-under par.

But Harrington is lurking just four shots off the pace on seven-under after hitting seven birdies in his 66 and he confessed that he's been keeping a close eye on McIlroy's progress so far this week.

Asked about McIlroy's impressive form, Harrington said: "He's an impressive performer, isn't he. Yeah, very good. It is a good sign. I hadn't been watching the leaderboards but I saw his name up there. He's very, very good. Really doing the job."

Twelve months ago, Harrington and McIlroy finished tied for 11th and had some banter afterwards.

The Holywood youngster gave Harrington a playful nudge in the back and a cheery 'hiya' as he ambled past the Dubliner on the way to the recorder's hut after a final-round 68.

"How'd you finish," enquired Harrington, pausing in the middle of his post-round interview with the media.

"Seven under, same as you," came the reply.

"Good man," said Harrington.

"Unfortunately," continued McIlroy.

Harrington rose to it beautifully. "Unfortunately?" he enquired.

"Yeah," retorted McIlroy. "I wanted to beat you."

Now ranked 40th in the world, McIlroy's presence at the business end of the leaderboard and his friendly rivalry with Harrington is regarded as a good sign by the triple Major winners.

"That's always been the goal, to move up and catch the guy ahead of you," Harrington said. "You have to keep working that way. He always looked like a fine player, but he is delivering and that's the important thing. There have been plenty of good players who have come out here and haven't delivered and he is delivering so that is a good sign."

As Green (65) and Storm (64) took a one stroke lead over Paul Casey (65) and Anthony Wall (67), Harrington was pleased to get the most out of his score in his first outing of 2009.

He birdied the first, third, sixth, 10th and 12th to get to six under par and while he bogeyed the 16th he birdied the 17th and par five 18th to move into a share fo 12th place.

Assessing his day, he said: "Not bad. Obviously at four behind there is a bit of work to be done there. But I am still in it and I certainly would have taken it starting off the week. 

"I didn't hit it very straight off the tee so I made the most of it all the way round, bar the 16th hole. Apart from 15 and 16 I absolutely maxed out on every other hole of the day. 

"I didn't leave much out there and hopefully I can have another good 27 holes and leave myself somewhat  in contention with nine to play and we will see what happens then." 

McIlroy picked up two birdies in the five holes he still had to complete in his first round to share the lead and then battled blustery conditions to pick up three more birdies in a bogey free 69 to move into contention for his first tour win.

The Holywood ace missed half the fairways and holed little on the greens but he reckons he is nicely positioned to strike over the weekend, despite not getting the most out of his second round.

McIlroy said: "I was a very solid round. I didn't have any bogeys but only made three birdies. The wind was picking up for our back nine but I have put myself in a great position going into the weekend. It is looking good hopefully for a good weekend.

"I gave myself a lot of chances and I am a little disappopinted I didn't take a few more. But you can't hole them all and I hit a lot of good putts that didn't go in.

"I have got to go and work a little on my putting and my driving and hopefully we will have a good weekend." McIlroy wasn't the only youngster to shine with England's Ollie Fisher (eight under) and New Zealand amateur Danny Lee (six under), the US Amateur champion, well in the hunt.

"It is great to see everyone doing well, McIlroy said. "I am not surprised to see Ollie Fisher doing well and Danny Lee is a great mate of mine as well and it is nice to see him doing well.

"When I see Ollie on the leaderboard I want to try and catch him up and he's probably thinking the same about me."

McIlroy might be 40th in the world but he wants to move forward and achieve his goal of making the world's top 20 before his 20th birthday in May.

He said: "That's the way I want to keep it. There are a lot of good guys playing this week and next week so there is a chance to move up in the world rankings and the Race to Dubai. There is a lot to play for over the next few weeks."

Gary Murphy (72) remained on three under with Paul McGinley (73) and Damien McGrane (72) tied for 51st on two under.  Peter Lawrie had six birdies and three bogeys in a 70 and looks certain to make the cut on the one-under par limit after play was suspended due to darkness.