It may be the land where the falcon is held in high regard, as the striking clubhouse facia at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club exhibits, but it was an eagle which was the bird of choice for Charl Schwartzel as he swooped into the lead at the halfway stage of the inaugural Abu Dhabi Golf Championship.
The 21 year old South African notched his eagle three at the 549 yard tenth hole, rolling in a 25 foot putt after a superb two iron second shot had arrowed the centre of the green, on his way to a second round, course record equalling 66 and a nine under par total of 135.
It gave the winner of the 2005 dunhill championship a one shot lead over Argentina’s Ricardo Gonzalez and Søren Hansen of Denmark who both took advantage of the relatively benign early morning conditions to move into a challenging position.
Gonzalez and Hansen began their second rounds at exactly the same time – 7.45am – albeit from different tees, and ended 18 holes later in exactly the same position too, Gonzalez posting a second consecutive 68 for an eight under par total of 136, where he was joined by Hansen after the Dane carded a course record equalling 66. But while their halfway position was good, Schwartzel’s was better.
The South African sprung from the blocks with three birdies in his first four holes and although he gave a shot back to the course at the treacherously difficult 471 yard par four fifth, he made up for it on the inward half, birdies at the 13th and the 18th accompanying the eagle at the tenth.
“I seem to play well towards the end of the year and at the beginning of the year,” he said. “I've had a long time off now, three and a half weeks before this tournament and just started practicing last week and it's carried over. It feels like I'm playing still the same golf as I did before Christmas.”
Gonzalez, a three time winner on The European Tour International Schedule with his last victory coming in the 2004 Open de Sevilla, could have shared the lead in his quest for a fourth title but he dropped his only shot of the day at the 18th after a poor drive found deep rough.
“I think it made a little difference to me playing early without so much wind as yesterday, I was a little lucky with that in my early holes,” said the 36 year old. “But it was really perfect conditions today.
“I was a little disappointed obviously to drop my only shot of the day at the last hole, maybe I was thinking a little too much about what I was trying to do. I tried to find the fairway but I didn’t do that and it is difficult from there. I played out but then missed the green with my third shot and chipped on and two putted.
“Maybe I was thinking a little too much about where I was on the leaderboard at that point, I should really have just tried to forget that and just concentrate on the hole I am playing and I will have to try and do that throughout my whole round tomorrow.”
Certainly if he can produce the form he did over the flawless first 17 holes of his second round then he will be a hard man to catch given the prodigious distances he can launch the golf ball, an asset on a course where the wind is a huge factor.
Nowhere is that more the case than on the 471 yard par four fifth hole which, during the second round, played directly into the teeth of the wind and led many professionals for the first time in most of their living memories, to hit a wooden club for their second shot on a par four.
One player who fell into that category was Hansen, but when he got to the green after his second shot, it proved well worth the effort as he pitched in for a rare birdie three on the hole to gain almost a shot and a half on the entire field.
“That was a big, big break and gave me the momentum to go on and birdie two of my final three holes as well, the seventh and the eighth,” said the Dane. “I’ve played really well the first two days and I'm very, very pleased to be in this position. It's my first tournament in a long time, and I'm just going to press on. It's all you can do.”
Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee moved fourth on seven under par 137 after a second round 69 while a group of seven players reached the halfway stage on six under par 138, amongst them World Number Two Vijay Singh and World Number 11 Chris DiMarco, making his first appearance in a European Tour event outside the Majors and World Golf Championships, and the 37 year old New Yorker showed he was adapting well with a flawless second round 67.
DiMarco revealed he had been given two orders by his kids when he managed to call them at the end of his first round, namely win the tournament and get home quickly as they were missing both their dad and their mum Amy, who is on her husband’s bag this week.
“I'm going to get home quick, I know that, but as for winning, it's just a matter of going out and playing,” he said. “But If I just keep playing good golf, I'll be up there at the end. It's just a matter of me going out playing consistent, good golf like I did today.
“I made five birdies, no bogeys and was very solid, I hit a lot of fairways again today. I think I missed three fairways and all three of them were in the first cut. It's the kind of course where there's a lot of easy holes and you take advantage of the easy ones and you just get by on the hard ones and that's what I've been able to do.”
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