McIlroy near lead after birdie-eagle finish in Round 2


ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Standing on the 17th tee on Saturday, Rory McIlroy muttered to himself, “OK, let’s finish 3-3.”

On cue, the Northern Irishman – who struggled on Friday to convert any birdie putts before the second round was suspended by darkness – rifled a drive some 30 yards past the other members of his high-profile threesome, which included world No. 1 Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler, and dropped an off-speed wedge shot to 2 feet for a tap-in birdie at the 17th hole for his first birdie of the round.

On the 18th hole, McIlroy hit 3-wood into the fairway and 5-wood from 260 yards to 2 feet for a tap-in eagle.

“Maybe I should say that to myself on the first tee every round, ‘OK, 18 3’s,’” joked McIlroy, who finished with a 2-under 70 to move to within two strokes of the lead at the fog-delayed Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.

“I needed it, I couldn’t hole one outside 2 feet. It glossed over an average round to be honest. I felt I hit the ball pretty well and it was so nice to finish like that.”

McIlroy, who is making his 2016 debut, bogeyed the ninth hole on Friday before play was suspended, hitting his drive into a water hazard. He played otherwise uninspired golf before his closing flurry.

Spieth wasn’t as fortunate when he returned to the course to complete the second round, a re-start that was delayed almost three hours by fog. The 22-year-old made just a single birdie (No. 10) in Round 2 and signed for a 1-over 73. He was tied for 29th when he completed his round.

Fowler bogeyed his first hole on Saturday (No. 14) but rebounded with birdies at the 16th and 17th holes for a 4-under 68 and was in a tie for 10th place at 6 under.

The third round is scheduled to start Saturday afternoon, with players going off the first and 10th tees in threesomes.