Former world No. 1 Tiger Woods gave clear evidence he was back to his best after carefully plotting his way to a second-round 69 to move within two shots of the lead at the Abu Dhabi Championship on Friday.
Young Dane Thorbjorn Olesen (67) set the pace on seven-under 137, but it was Woods who made everyone sit up and take notice by displaying the same sort of control and precision he demonstrated while accumulating 14 major victories.
The Abu Dhabi Golf Club is providing a stern test for a strong field and the 36-year-old American picked up five birdies and two bogeys to join six other players on 139, one behind Italian Matteo Manassero (65) and Briton Gareth Maybin (70).
Also on five-under 139 after another sunny day in the desert were British quartet Rory McIlroy (72), Richard Finch (71), Paul Lawrie (69) and Robert Rock (70), Swede Robert Karlsson (72) and Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Gonnet (71).
Early starter Olesen, 22, one of the European Tour’s hottest young prospects, was dreaming of a maiden victory after stringing together seven birdies in the first 12 holes on the way to his five-under round.
“It was a bit of a shame to finish with a bogey-six at the last, but overall I played really well,” he said.
Woods, beset by injuries and personal problems in the past two years, hinted he was getting his “A game” back together by winning the Chevron World Challenge last month.
That victory in California came in a minor event against a lesser field, but this week’s tournament is laden with world-class talent, the lineup resembling a major championship more than a regular tour event.
“I thought I played well today,” late starter Woods said. “I made a couple of putts here and there, but it was tough out there. The greens are a little bit quicker, a little bit dryer and the rough seems to be getting deeper and more lush so it certainly puts a premium on driving the ball in the fairway.”
Woods’s game from tee to green was much the same as it was on Thursday when he fashioned two birdies and 16 pars.
Twenty four hours later, though, he showed a meaner streak on the greens.
Woods’s marquee three-ball with McIlroy and world No. 1 Luke Donald was followed by one of the biggest galleries assembled at a tournament in the Middle East.
The fans had plenty to watch because where Woods was rock steady, McIlroy gave a spectacularly inconsistent performance and Donald seemed as though he was playing in as much sand as grass.
World No. 3 McIlroy mixed six birdies with two bogeys and two double-bogeys, the most notable coming at the ninth where he committed a rules breach by using his hand to sweep sand away on the fringe of the green.
Triple major winner Padraig Harrington enjoyed a welcome return to form, shooting a 69 to join Spanish duo Sergio Garcia (69) and Jose Manuel Lara (70), US Masters champion Charl Schwartzel (70) and Briton Richie Ramsay (71) on 140.