Even when he's not putting his best, Rory McIlroy finds a way. On Friday in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship he drove the ball brilliantly after an average day with the club in the first round and then made up for some less than deadly putting by notching the first official hole-in-one of his professional career.
A nine-iron flew 177 yards downwind at the 15th, pitched six feet from the cup and hopped right and in for an ace for McIlroy, who went on to birdie the par-five 18th for a 66 and reduce what had been a five-shot deficit with respect to three-time Abu Dhabi champion Martin Kaymer to just two strokes.
Playing earlier in the day, US Open champion Kaymer shot a flawless 67 to match his six year old 36-hole scoring record of 13 under par. By day's end he was a stroke clear of Belgium's Thomas Pieters and two ahead of McIlroy, who was happy to come home in 31 for the second day running.
“I felt really good today, as I went to the range yesterday and worked a little bit on a couple of things, so I drove the ball much better today, which you need to around here," McIlroy said of his round on a day when Rickie Fowler shot 75 to survive the two under par cut on the mark.
“Ball striking wise, I couldn't really fault it. I played really well from tee to green, and felt like I was hitting some good putts that just weren't dropping. I'm not going to complain with a 66, and it's a great position to be going into the weekend.
“The hole in one definitely made up for the two previous holes [where he missed short putts]. It was a perfect number, straight downwind, 177 yards, and I had a nine iron. The 12th hole was playing sort of similar and I hit the same club there, so I knew it was a pretty good number.
“As soon as it left, it looked like it had a chance, and took a nice little hop to the right. It’s my first one ever in competition as a pro, so obviously the beers are on me tonight.
“It's always tough giving Martin Kaymer a two shot advantage over 36 holes around this place, but I'll try my best. He's obviously playing very well, and I feel like I'm playing good too, so I’ll see if I can put some pressure on him.
“You look at Martin and he has got a phenomenal record around here. I couldn't think of a better way to start the season than to test yourself against one of the best players in the world, a two-time Major Champion, who plays this course really, really well, so I'm looking forward to the weekend.”
Kaymer, 30, clearly feels comfortable in Abu Dhabi and no one has hit more greens than the German so far this week. As a bonus, he also putts them well.
“I guess it's the greens that I love here, as I can read them very well and my stroke always feels good when I come here," Kaymer said. “Again, today, I didn't miss many fairways, which gives you the opportunity to go for a lot of flags, and to be honest, I really believe the golf course plays two or three shots tougher in the morning than in the afternoon.
"Once you miss the fairway you're in that thick, wet grass and then it's almost impossible to get home in two on the par fours, so I was therefore very happy to shoot five under today.
“When you start in the morning you have to shoot a good score because the greens are good and there's no wind, but I see it the other way around, and I don't see anything. I just see it as a bigger challenge, and therefore I don't expect myself to shoot five or six under par.
“I don't know what they are going to do with the golf course (tomorrow), maybe they will change a few tee boxes and make it a little bit more scorable tomorrow. Obviously you expect yourself to make even more birdies in that case though.
“What I said yesterday, though, is that it's important you don't compare yourself to the last two rounds and just keep playing the weekend.”
As for Pieters, 22, he might have dropped a shot at his final hole (the ninth) , but that did little to dampen an exemplary day on which he signed for a 67 to lie a shot adrift with two rounds to go.
“It was a solid day, and I started off well, just struggled coming in a little bit," Pieters said. "I rolled it well with my putter though, so that was nice. I'm just trying to do all the little things right and hopefully it comes together with a good score.
“I got to see the course when I played last year, however, I wasn't really prepared but at least I got to play three or four rounds last year which has helped me a little bit.
“For the weekend, I want to win, that's for sure. I wouldn't be in this position if I didn't want to win, so it's simple. I just need to be patient, drive it well, drive it straight and make some putts.
“I think that I showed last year at the Open de Espana that I could do it on this Tour, so I’m just looking forward to the challenge tomorrow and this weekend.”
Damien McGrane is tied for 26th on four under after opening with three birdies in his first four holes and then following dropped shots at two of the next four by making two birdies coming home.
But it was a day to forget for Darren Clarke and Michael Hoey as they both missed the halfway cut by a stroke.
Clarke again holed little as he took 30 putts in a 71 to finish on one under alongside Hoey, who double bogeyed his first two holes and added a 74 to his opening 69.
Scores after round two
131 M Kaymer (Ger) 64 67,
132 T Pieters (Bel) 65 67,
133 R McIlroy (Nir) 67 66,
135 J Morrison (Eng) 68 67, P Uihlein (USA) 67 68,
136 R Green (Aus) 68 68, A Levy (Fra) 66 70,
137 B Wiesberger (Aut) 72 65, M Madsen (Den) 68 69, T Hatton (Eng) 66 71, G Stal (Fra) 68 69,
138 R Karlsson (Swe) 67 71, E Pepperell (Eng) 70 68, S Hansen (Den) 69 69, M Lorenzo-Vera (Fra) 69 69,
139 N Fasth (Swe) 69 70, K Aphibarnrat (Tha) 72 67, N Colsaerts (Bel) 68 71, R Paratore (Ita) 70 69, M Nixon (Eng) 68 71, C Schwartzel (RSA) 71 68, M Jiménez (Esp) 72 67, A Cañizares (Esp) 69 70, O Fisher (Eng) 69 70, G Tian-Lang (Chn) 70 69,
140 R Jacquelin (Fra) 69 71, S Khan (Eng) 73 67, A Lahiri (Ind) 72 68, S Hend (Aus) 70 70, D Van Der Walt (RSA) 70 70, D McGrane (Irl) 71 69, M Fraser (Aus) 72 68, Y Yang (Kor) 70 70, B Grace (RSA) 66 74, R Fisher (Eng) 71 69, S Webster (Eng) 73 67, J Donaldson (Wal) 73 67, G Bourdy (Fra) 66 74, K Broberg (Swe) 69 71, E Grillo (Arg) 70 70,
141 P Lawrie (Sco) 68 73, A Hansen (Den) 68 73, J Garcia Pinto (Esp) 70 71, A Johnston (Eng) 73 68, R Sterne (RSA) 71 70, M Kieffer (Ger) 70 71, M Ilonen (Fin) 66 75, G Coetzee (RSA) 68 73, C Lee (Sco) 73 68, D Drysdale (Sco) 70 71, T Olesen (Den) 72 69, J Singh (Ind) 68 73, A Wall (Eng) 70 71, V Dubuisson (Fra) 69 72, D Willett (Eng) 70 71,
142 R Fowler (USA) 67 75, O Wilson (Eng) 71 71, R Rock (Eng) 69 73, J Kruger (RSA) 74 68, E Els (RSA) 70 72, R Bland (Eng) 69 73, B An (Kor) 67 75, J Campillo (Esp) 72 70, A Noren (Swe) 67 75, J Rose (Eng) 73 69, J Carlsson (Swe) 70 72, A Sullivan (Eng) 71 71, J Palmer (Eng) 71 71, B Dredge (Wal) 72 70, O Farr (Wal) 73 69, S Benson (Eng) 69 73, D Fichardt (RSA) 69 73.
143 P Larrazábal (Esp) 71 72, R Ramsay (Sco) 74 69, M Fitzpatrick (Eng) 71 72, D Lipsky (USA) 72 71, M Hoey (Nir) 69 74, D Clarke (Nir) 72 71, D Howell (Eng) 72 71, T Fleetwood (Eng) 74 69,
144 P Waring (Eng) 68 76, L Slattery (Eng) 70 74, H Stenson (Swe) 76 68, P Maddy (Eng) 72 72, E Espana (Fra) 73 71, R Finch (Eng) 75 69, M Warren (Sco) 69 75, T Lewis (Eng) 69 75, R Cabrera-Bello (Esp) 70 74, L Bjerregaard (Den) 74 70, T Aiken (RSA) 70 74, M Foster (Eng) 74 70,
145 G Storm (Eng) 74 71, S Dyson (Eng) 73 72, S Jamieson (Sco) 70 75, E Molinari (Ita) 72 73, M Tullo (Chi) 73 72, M Manassero (Ita) 72 73, A Quiros (Esp) 69 76,
146 M Lampert (Ger) 72 74, M Crespi (Ita) 72 74, G Mulroy (RSA) 73 73, J Quesne (Fra) 74 72, R Wattel (Fra) 73 73, G Havret (Fra) 71 75, D Foos (Ger) 71 75, D Horsey (Eng) 71 75,
147 A Tadini (Ita) 76 71, S Kapur (Ind) 76 71, M Baldwin (Eng) 73 74, B Rumford (Aus) 73 74,
148 S Hutsby (Eng) 73 75, W Ormsby (Aus) 75 73, S Kjeldsen (Den) 74 74,
149 F Aguilar (Chi) 76 73, M Carlsson (Swe) 75 74, F Zanotti (Par) 76 73,
151 C Doak (Sco) 76 75, B Hebert (Fra) 76 75, O Schniederjans (am) (USA) 76 75,
152 C Shinkwin (Eng) 77 75,
153 D Brooks (Eng) 76 77,
154 C Dimarco (USA) 78 76,
155 A Al Musharrekh (Uae) 78 77,
166 J Jeong (Kor) 80 86.