Back-to-back bogey free rounds for McIlroy - 812 days later
 ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - JANUARY 19:  Thomas Pieters of Belguim tees off on the 18th hole  during day two of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - JANUARY 19:  Thomas Pieters of Belguim tees off on the 18th hole  during day two of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

It says it all about Rory McIlroy's ability that he can be ranked 90th for putting and in contention for his first win for nearly 16 months in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

The key? Avoiding mistakes.

The last time McIlroy carded back-to-back, bogey-free rounds was on the first two days of the 2015 Turkish Airlines Open, which was two years, two months and 20 days ago.

After taking 34 putts in a 69 on Thursday,  he rolled in a 40 footer for an eagle at the 18th for a 66 on Friday and finds himself tied for sixth, just three shots behind Thomas Pieters on nine-under

World No 1 Dustin Johnson shot a facile 64 that could have been a 62 quite easily and lurks just a stroke behind McIlroy on eight under while Greystones' Paul Dunne is two shots further back, six off the pace in joint 21st.

As for Graeme McDowell, now 189th in the world, the 2010 US Open champion missed the two-under par cut by two strokes, carding a second round 74.

McIlroy was frequently impressive, splashing out almost stone dead from a poor lie at the fourth to save par before making the first of four birdies at the par-three fourth, the others coming at the ninth, 11th and 12th 

What's ominous for his rivals is that even with that eagle three at the 18th, he's just three-under for the eight par-fives he's played so far, mainly because he finds it tough to read the greens.

While he improved on the greens, taking just 27 putts, he knows he is going to have to take more of his chances if he's to win for the first time since the Tour Championship in September 2016.

"I gave myself plenty of chances, and that's what I'm going to have to do over the next couple of days, as well, if I want to try and win this tournament," he said. "66 was good. There weren't that many fireworks apart from the putt on the last."

Pleased with his swing and the improvement in his wedge play he hopes, he said. to "get off to a hot start tomorrow before the leaders go off and all of a sudden you're one back or tied or the lead, and then you're really in the tournament."

Outdriven easily by the prodigious Johnson at times — Mcllroy averaged 310.3 yards (9th) over the first two rounds to Johnson's 317 (4th) — he was more accurate.

"Yeah, it proves I'm back to full fitness and 100 percent health," he said. "DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best driver of the golf ball and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me that I'm doing the right things and gives me confidence going forward."

As for the closing eagle, which was preceded by a high cut two iron from around 200 yards, he said: "It was a nice way to finish. Felt like I gave myself tons of chances on the back nine and it was sort of difficult to convert them."

The reason?

"I always struggle to read these greens, the colour of them and I feel like I'm hitting good putts and they are just sliding by the edges," he ventured.

"But it was nice, I stayed patient and feel like I got what I deserved on the last for staying so patient and it was nice to finish with a three, leapfrog a few guys and get myself into contention for the weekend."

Pieters fired a bogey-free, seven under par 65 to lead by one on 12-under from Spain’s Jorge Campillo, who birdied the final two holes for a superb 64.

Defending champion Fleetwood, celebrating his 27th birthday, shares third on 10-under alongside Ross Fisher (67) and Alexander Levy.

All three were members of the EurAsia Cup-winning side last week.

“I've done well here in the past and it suits me," Pieters said. "We hit driver wherever we can and the rest of it, you know, it's good ball-striking and going at a couple flags with wedges when you have the chance to do that."

It was little wonder that McDowell struggled. Never the longest, he was only 63rd for driving accuracy and with an average performance on the greens, his tally of five birdies and five bogeys came up well short of the mark.

Round two scores (par 72)

132 T Pieters (Bel) 67 65, 

133 J Campillo (Esp) 69 64, 

134 A Levy (Fra) 69 65, R Fisher (Eng) 67 67, T Fleetwood (Eng) 66 68, 

135 B Wiesberger (Aut) 67 68, P Casey (Eng) 70 65, S Brazel (Aus) 67 68, Rory McIlroy (Nir) 69 66, A Sullivan (Eng) 70 65, 

136 R Fox (Nzl) 70 66, C Paisley (Eng) 69 67, D Johnson (USA) 72 64, B Grace (RSA) 72 64, F Zanotti (Par) 67 69, D Frittelli (RSA) 69 67, A Johnston (Eng) 68 68, 

137 J Scrivener (Aus) 69 68, J Luiten (Ned) 69 68, M Kaymer (Ger) 69 68, 

138 M Fitzpatrick (Eng) 68 70, T Detry (Bel) 70 68, H Stenson (Swe) 70 68, W Ashun (Chn) 71 67, K Broberg (Swe) 69 69, Paul Dunne (Irl) 68 70, H Tanihara (Jpn) 66 72, J Wang (Kor) 71 67, R Ramsay (Sco) 68 70, 

139 M Wallace (Eng) 71 68, N Colsaerts (Bel) 69 70, T Hatton (Eng) 69 70, C Pigem (Esp) 68 71, B Stone (RSA) 69 70, A Otaegui (Esp) 70 69, S Vincent (Zim) 69 70, 

140 S Hend (Aus) 71 69, K Aphibarnrat (Tha) 70 70, B Hebert (Fra) 72 68, R Sterne (RSA) 68 72, D Fichardt (RSA) 73 67, S Gallacher (Sco) 68 72, S Han (USA) 73 67, 

141 R Karlsson (Swe) 71 70, M Manassero (Ita) 70 71, B An (Kor) 71 70, G Havret (Fra) 70 71, D Burmester (RSA) 69 72, L Bjerregaard (Den) 72 69, L Jensen (Den) 70 71, N Bertasio (Ita) 70 71, G Stal (Fra) 72 69, G Bourdy (Fra) 71 70, S Sharma (Ind) 71 70, M Korhonen (Fin) 73 68, L Slattery (Eng) 69 72, 

142 T Olesen (Den) 69 73, J Rose (Eng) 71 71, M Ilonen (Fin) 68 74, S Kjeldsen (Den) 72 70, H Porteous (RSA) 72 70, J Smith (Eng) 72 70, M Kuchar (USA) 72 70, J Kruyswijk (RSA) 75 67, J Lagergren (Swe) 69 73, M Lorenzo-Vera (Fra) 71 71, R Gouveia (Por) 72 70, R Cabrera Bello (Esp) 72 70, A Cañizares (Esp) 71 71, T Bjørn (Den) 73 69, A Quiros (Esp) 70 72, 

CUT

143 M Kieffer (Ger) 73 70, T Aiken (RSA) 70 73, R Jacquelin (Fra) 72 71, A Romero (Arg) 72 71, P Hanson (Swe) 70 73, T Jaidee (Tha) 73 70, D Brooks (Eng) 72 71, R Paratore (Ita) 76 67, A Wall (Eng) 72 71, A Björk (Swe) 69 74, G Coetzee (RSA) 72 71, J Donaldson (Wal) 73 70, D Drysdale (Sco) 72 71, O Fisher (Eng) 68 75, L Westwood (Eng) 74 69, I Poulter (Eng) 75 68, P Waring (Eng) 70 73, 

144 E Molinari (Ita) 74 70, E Pepperell (Eng) 72 72, J Norris (Aus) 73 71, D Lipsky (USA) 71 73, W Ormsby (Aus) 73 71, A Chesters (Eng) 70 74, Graeme McDowell (Nir) 70 74, D Horsey (Eng) 72 72, 

145 R Bland (Eng) 74 71, C Shinkwin (Eng) 73 72, A Connelly (Can) 72 73, T Immelman (RSA) 69 76, L Haotong (Chn) 73 72, R Rock (Eng) 74 71, P Larrazábal (Esp) 71 74, 

146 B Dechambeau (USA) 74 72, S Jamieson (Sco) 75 71, M Warren (Sco) 73 73, G Storm (Eng) 74 72, R Wattel (Fra) 69 77, S Lee (Kor) 74 72, M Pavon (Fra) 77 69, M Southgate (Eng) 74 72, P Lawrie (Sco) 74 72, 

147 Z Lombard (RSA) 73 74, N Elvira (Esp) 74 73, J Morrison (Eng) 75 72, 

148 E Els (RSA) 76 72, A Dodt (Aus) 76 72, M Siem (Ger) 75 73, 

149 T Buchanan (Sco) 74 75, 

150 C Wood (Eng) 74 76, P Khongwatmai (Tha) 77 73, C Hanson (Eng) 71 79, 

151 J Olazábal (Esp) 78 73, 

155 D Kirkwood (am) (Eng) 74 81, 

166 A Al Musharrekh (Uae) 86 80,