Collin Morikawa and Rory McIlroy were left clinging on to a place in the weekend field for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship as the world’s top golfers were blown away on the links course.
As the winds gusted up to 45mph around Yas Links, all the star players struggled to keep their ball under control and their scorecards respectable, with the likes of Henrik Stenson, Danny Willett, Chris Wood, Andy Sullivan and Haotong Li all joining Open Champion and DP World Tour championship title holder Morikawa and four-time major winner McIlroy in flirting with an early exit and missing out on the weekend action.
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As predicted, the wind whipped up a storm, with Morikawa’s early tee time offering little respite as he added a two-over 74 to his 73 in the first round, to leave the Race to Dubai champion on three-over par and two strokes outside the projected cut. As it turned out, he just scraped through as the cut line drifted to four-over as players continued to struggle in the afternoon.
Balls failed to stop in the winds, rolling off the greens and fairways and oscillating as the players prepared to take their shot on the European tour’s first event of 2022.
McIlroy was facing and early exit and his first round without a birdie in around four years until he pulled off a fantastic rescue job on the 18th to duck under the wire at three under.
With around 40 players still to complete their second rounds, the cut line may still move to three under, meaning Morikawa and McIlroy are packing their bags, but for now the two biggest draws in the competition are safe.
Viktor Hovland — who was in a great position after a 64 on Day 1, could only manage a 74 — 10 strokes worse — on Friday. However, on a day of such high scoring, he still sits in second spot alongside Ian Poulter and James Morrison on six-under, one behind overnight leader from the first round Scott Jamieson. The Scot also shot 74.
“It was a tough day. It was a really difficult wind, blowing as much as it is,” Norwegian Hovland said. “You are always playing defensive on every single shot. So it’s just a really grindy day. I certainly missed a few putts and I feel I could have shot under par today.”
The ever-smiling Hovland was asked about his positive approach on the course, to which he replied with a laugh: “You must be lucky to get me on the good days. I have my moments.”
No one broke par from the morning starters — quite a contrast after Jamieson smashed the course record on Thursday with a nine-under 63.
“It was dicey, hitting some pins on the edge of the water,” Poulter said. “In some cases you enjoy it, sometimes it’s miserable.”
Jamieson added: "It certainly wasn't easy. You know, we knew the forecast but when you're in your hotel room in the morning and the locker room, clear day, and before you play it's a little easier, but then you experience it and get out there.
"Obviously hitting shots is tricky with all the gusts but the hardest thing is putting. You get over the ball and you feel like you've got to be so tense to stop everything moving but that's the worst thing you can do when you're trying to putt. I holed a lot of really good putts from inside five feet today which kept my score respectable.
"Starting on the back nine, I knew the first four or five holes were going to be okay, downwind, and then I knew we were going to be in for a tough stretch from the 15th to the seventh, six being the last of the tough stretch.
"The first was the only hole that I really kind of chucked a couple away, but it's so easily done. So you've got to just get on with it."
Dubai-based Spaniard Rafa Cabrera Bello was one of the few players to go under par, with his 71 taking him to a share of ninth spot.
Those players still to complete their rounds — including UAE amateurs Ahmad Skaik and Josh Hill — will be out first thing on Saturday, before the cut is made and the third round gets under way.
1 Scott Jamieson -7
2 Viktor Hovland -6
2 Ian Poulter -6
2 James Morrison -6 (through 14)
5 Takumi Kanaya -5
5 Thomas Pieters -5
5 Shane Lowry -5
5 Alexander Bjork -5
9 Erik van Rooyen -4
9 Jeff Winther -4
9 Rafa Cabrera Bello -4
9 Victor Perez -4
9 Julien Brun -4 (through 12)