Justin Rose tightened his grip on the Hong Kong Open yesterday as he moved to the top of the leaderboard, but he singled out compatriot Ian Poulter as a key rival standing between him and the trophy.
World No. 7 Rose, whose last visit to Fanling in 2011 saw him turfed out early after missing the cut, shot a four-under-par round of 66 to go nine-under on the second day.
Poulter climbed to joint third after hitting 66, going seven-under-par at the halfway point of the tournament.
His precipitous descent to No. 51 in the world rankings saw him make a last-minute dash to Hong Kong in a bid to save his European Tour membership and his Ryder Cup chances.
Taiwan’s Lu Wei-chih, who underwent brain surgery in 2012, was on seven-under, while Denmark’s Lucas Bjerregaard, the world No. 285, on eight-under, completed the top four.
American Dustin Johnson missed the cut after a poor day on the course, which saw him chalk up a two-over-par round of 72, including a double-bogey on the sixth that left him hacking around in the rough.
The world No. 8 finished the day at one-over after two rounds.
Poulter, who said he was suffering from jetlag, insisted he was not just there to make up the numbers.
“I don’t play to take part — obviously I play to win,” the former Hong Kong Open champion said.
There is added drama for the 39-year-old, as he must finish on top to qualify for the coveted WGC-HSBC Champions event in Shanghai next month.
He has been in the tournament, known as “Asia’s major,” every year since it started in 2005.
Poulter said he was looking forward to the chance of playing with his friend Rose today and tomorrow.
“Any time you get to play with a mate, and obviously a good one like Justin, is always quite nice,” he said.
Rose’s consistency over the first two days saw him play just one bogey, on the penultimate hole yesterday, before finishing on a birdie.
He said he was happy with his performance, despite struggling with a sore left hip as temperatures topped 30oC.
He called Poulter a “tough to beat” opponent.
“Poulter is a past champion and he’s on the leaderboard,” Rose said. “He’s always good when he’s got something to prove, and he’s probably a dangerous guy now that he’s outside the top 50 in the world, and I know that he’ll be desperate to get back in it.”
India’s Anirban Lahiri, ranked 39 in the world and top of the Asian Tour Order of Merit, played a solid round of 67 to finish on six-under after two rounds, but said he could have done even better.
Matthew Fitzpatrick, aged 21, from England, tipped by Rose ahead of the tournament as a young player to watch, also finished the second round on six-under after shooting a 67.
Other Taiwanese in the field were Lin Wen-tang, who was tied for 10th on five-under 135 after a second-round 68, C.T. Pan (73) in a share of 34th and Chan Shih-chang (69) tied for 61st, while Hung Chien-yao (71) missed the cut.
Additional reporting by staff writer
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