No one can argue that Shane Lowry loves a links course. The Irishman famously shot to stardom when he claimed the Open Championship in 2019 at Royal Portrush and now he is flirting with adding his second Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship title to his resume after another storming round at the Yas Links in the UAE capital.
Lowry was one of the few who held his own during stormy weather on Friday with winds whipping up to 45mph, and a level par kept him within touching distance of surprise halfway leader Scott Jamieson, with the ever-smiling Irishman relishing the challenging conditions while other big names such as Collin Morikawa and Rory McIlroy fading badly. “I prefer it when it’s calm, but love a bit of wind,” Lowry said.
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With Saturday offering much better conditions and a chance of some low scores, Lowry took his opportunity, firing in a flawless five-under 67 to move to nine-under alongside Belgium’s Thomas Pieters, who pretty much matched him stroke for stroke, to sit on 10-under for the tournament.
However, that still was not enough for the lead as Jamieson, the world No. 336, clung on to his lead by a stroke over the challenging fairways on Yas Island in the UAE capital.
The Glaswegian 38-year-old has only one European Tour title to his name — the 2012 Nelson Mandela Championship in Durban — and to say victory on Sunday would be the biggest day of his career would the understatement of the year (and it is only January). The Rolex Series event has a purse of $8 million and, should Jamieson hold on and claim the title at an event he has led since his course-record 63 on Thursday, it would be a “game-changer” as he says himself.
“After yesterday, certainly the whole day seems a little more straightforward but it still wasn’t easy,” Jamieson said. “The greens were considerably quicker and there was still a decent amount of breeze. But when I was on the last green, I noticed no one had made birdie so I was happy to knock in a six-footer.”
Jamieson knows what this win would mean to his career, despite doing little to alter his game.
“I didn’t do a whole lot in the off-season,” he said. “I was pretty comfortable with where my game was when we finished in Dubai. I actually practised quite a bit in December and then had a decent break and then only really started practising again about 10 days ago. I’m glad it was all still there.
“It would be massive, a game changer to win a tournament of this stature. There’s definitely been some great champions here, and that’s an awful long way to go.”
The Scotsman has more than held his own in illustrious company as world No. 2 Morikawa and four-time major winner McIlroy fell victim to the Yas Links course which is proving a tough host on its first time as the venue for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship after its move this year from the traditional home on the Abu Dhabi Golf Club National Course.
Lowry and Pieters know they are in for a challenge.
“It felt good and comfortable,” said the Irishman. “I had a lovely time with Thomas. I enjoy his company. We played some good golf. Alex struggled but rallied at the end and did very well. It was just a pleasant day out there. It’s a nice golf course. It’s tricky, a bit of wind blowing, I quite like it. I like the way it fits my eye. I’m looking forward to tomorrow. I see Scott is on 10-under. Whoever I’m paired with tomorrow it will be a good day but there’s one thing in my mind, to be standing here tomorrow with the trophy again.”
Pieters concurred: “It was pretty stress-free. I think I missed one or two greens just like the first day. I am putting well. I rolled it well nicely today. Just found a couple long ones at the end. Pretty bummed about the one on 18.
“After eight weeks off you don’t really know where your game is at but obviously the confidence is still there. I kind of wanted to keep going at the end of last year, but it’s nice to just keep it going. Hopefully we have a good day tomorrow. I think everybody comes here to win so it would mean the same to me as any other guy. Just got to do one more really good round and we’ll see.”
Out of the ‘big guns’ alongside Lowry, Viktor Hovland is lurking on eight-under, with the world No. 7 posting a two-under 70 to recover from his 74 on Friday. Alongside him, Shubhankar Sharma raised eyebrows with a brilliant 68 on Saturday as he looks to become the first Indian to claim the coveted Falcon Trophy in a tournament that began in 2006.
One of the best stories of the day must go to Dubai’s own Josh Hill, who came out in the morning to complete his second round as bad light halted play on Friday with 40 players still on the course. The 17-year-old amateur looked down and out and missing the cut, but birdies on 15, 16 and 18 meant he made the cut on the mark and — after a short turnaround — went back out on to the links to fire in an astonishing 69 for his third round, including six birdies and an eagle. Given the occasion, workload and company, we can forgive him the two double-bogeys.
Another Dubai resident, Rafa Cabrera Bello, who won the Dubai Desert Classic back in 2012, lurks alongside Ian Poulter and James Morrison on seven-under, three off the lead.
Defending champion Tyrrell Hatton is on two-under alongside McIlroy, while Morikawa is two-over.