Wednesday, May 23, 2018

McIlroy nears lead at European event at Abu Dhabi

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Rory McIlroy birdied his last two holes to post 5-under 67 and move two shots off the lead two rounds into the Abu Dhabi Championship on Friday.

At 7-under 137 in the European Tour event, McIlroy was in contention for a second win in three tournaments. Playing partner Phil Mickelson (70) was also happy, making the cut by two shots at 1 under after his first-round 73.

"I'm really glad I made the cut, and I now have a chance over these next two days because I kind of keyed in on something with my swing starting to feel much better," Mickelson said. "I really need these two days to get my game in shape."

Mickelson was impressed with McIlroy's form: "His game looks really sharp, and his driving was impeccable."

Tied for the lead were Scotland's Craig Lee (67) and Spain's Rafa Cabrera-Bello (68) at 9-under 135, a stroke ahead of England's Danny Willett (63), who eagled the par-5 eighth.

McIlroy shared fourth with Argentina's Ricardo Gonzalez (66) and Denmark's Thomas Bjorn (70).

He was holding the end-of-2013 form that saw him come from behind and defeat Masters champion Adam Scott in the Australian Open in Sydney last month.

McIlroy was happy to compare with how he missed the cut a year ago, when he debuted new equipment and left himself and sponsor Nike red-faced. In that humbling display of consecutive 75s were two double bogeys and seven bogeys.

"Coming off the last green last year, after 36 holes, I was deflated to say the least," he said. "The week didn't go as how I imagined it or how I planned. But it's so much better this year. I'm happy with how I'm playing. I'm striking the ball really well. I got a few putts to drop on the back nine, which was nice."

While McIlroy won two tournaments ago in Sydney, it has been 13 months since his last success on the European Tour when he birdied his closing five holes in winning the season-ending World Tour Championship.

PGA: Patrick Reed, a day after shooting 9-under 63 at PGA West's Arnold Palmer Private Course to take the lead, matched that score again down the road at La Quinta (Calif.) to stretch his second-round lead to two over Brendon Todd, who shot 63 on the Palmer course. Reed is at 18-under 126. Ryan Palmer was third, three back at 15 under, after shooting 65 at La Quinta.

Champions: Rocco Mediate took the first-round lead in the season-opening Mitsubishi Electric Championship in Kaupulehu-Kona, Hawaii, shooting 9-under 63, one stroke ahead of 2012 winner Dan Forsman. Fred Couples, Fred Funk, Tom Pernice and Steve Elkington shot 65.