(Reuters) – Belgian Thomas Pieters carded a seven-under-par 65 in the second round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship on Friday to take the lead heading into the weekend, while defending champion Tommy Fleetwood, Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson remain in contention.
Pieters, 25, moved to 12-under after hitting seven birdies in perfect conditions at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club and has a one-shot lead over Spaniard Jorge Campillo, who struck an impressive eight birdies.
“I’ve done well here in the past and it suits me. We hit driver wherever we can and the rest of it, it’s good ball-striking and going at a couple flags with wedges when you have them that you need to do that,” Pieters said.
“I hit most of the middle of the greens. If I had a wedge, I went at the flag and I think I got up-and-down or made birdie with a wedge in my hand three or four times. It wasn’t really that fancy today but a very good round.”
Campillo, 31, is targeting his first European Tour title at his 194th event.
“I have a top-10 here and I normally play good around here. So I do like the course. I think it’s a fair course. It’s tough but it’s playing easy but it can play hard with the wind,” he said.
Fleetwood, who birdied his last two holes, along with compatriot Ross Fisher and Frenchman Alexander Levy are 10-under with four-time major winner McIlroy a further shot behind after a second consecutive bogey-free round.
McIlroy, competing in his first tournament since October, was sixth and joined by Andy Sullivan, Bernd Wiesberger, Paul Casey and Sam Brazel on nine-under.
World number one Johnson recovered from a poor first round to finish on eight-under and is joined by six others, including Fabrizio Zanotti, Chris Paisley and Brandon Grace.
Japan’s Hideto Tanihara, who shared the opening round lead on Thursday, fell well off the mark after a disappointing round that saw him hit two birdies and two bogeys to finish on six-under.
(Reporting by Aditi Prakash in Bengaluru; Editing by Christian Radnedge)