Rolex Series

Thomas Pieters shares halfway lead in Dubai after late fireworks

Thomas Pieters produced fireworks late in his second round as he shot seven birdies on the back nine to share the lead at the halfway stage of the 2023 Hero Dubai Desert Classic.

The Belgian suffered the disappointment of missing the cut at last week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship as his title defence fell flat.

But he has responded brilliantly at Emirates Golf Club this week, leading after the weather-affected first day before finishing his second round with a flourish on day three to sit alongside amateur Michael Thorbjornsen and Richard Bland on ten under par at the midway point.

Englishman Bland, who had made three birdies in the first four holes of his second round before play was suspended due to fading light on Friday, carded three more birdies and a solitary bogey in his remaining 14 holes on Saturday morning to sign for a second straight 67.

Pieters began the day on five under but carded three bogeys and just the one birdie on the front nine to appear in danger of missing the cut for the second week in succession.

But he turned things around on the back nine in the afternoon, as birdies at the tenth, 11th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th and 18th earned him a share of the lead.

And American Thorbjornsen joined the pair at the summit late in his round after carding an eagle, seven birdies an one bogey in his 64.

Swede Marcus Kinhult, Scotland's Connor Syme and Spaniard Adri Arnaus sat one shot off the lead on nine under, with World Number One Rory McIlroy among those another stroke back.

Pieters converted a series of lengthy putts in the closing stages of his second round, including three from more than ten feet as he made four successive birdies from the 13th.

The 2016 Ryder Cup star's ball-striking was also impressive on day three as he almost holed his tee-shot at the short 11th.

But he credited his putting with bailing him out during a round of two halves.

He said: "The front nine was a bit scruffy. I made two bogeys with a wedge. Coming off nine I was not in a good head space.

"And then I shoot 30 on the back. I don't know how, but my putting seemed to work.

"I've still got some stuff to do on the range because my driving is pretty poor.

"The driving doesn't feel very good, so we'll have to fix that. But all the rest is in good shape.

"Like I said the putting has kind of bailed me out. I can definitely see them rolling in from 15 feet, which is a nice feeling. But I've got to get a bit more stress-free off the tee."

Thorbjornsen, currently second in the World Amateur Golf Rankings, started at the tenth tee on Saturday and made five birdies in his first six holes before chipping in for a brilliant eagle at the long 18th.

He gave a shot back at the first but birdies on the second and sixth saw him join Bland and Pieters at the top.

Thorbjornsen said: "It feels good. Didn't have the best round yesterday and the day before, felt like I missed a lot of putts out there. Thought I had a pretty good game plan but just stuck to it today. I actually made some putts.

"I enjoy playing professional golf a lot and I'm still an amateur but just the golf courses that we play, the crowd out there, it's what I'm dreaming of ever since I was five or six years old. It just feels good to be out there."

Bland is happy with his relatively stress-free progress so far.

He said: "The only dropped shot was at the sixth this morning where I kind of misjudged the temperature and chipped to three feet and missed. So other than that, it's been pretty stress-free, which is nice."

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