Abu Dhabi: Francesco Laporta took control of the leaderboard on day two of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship on Friday with a sensational round that took everyone by surprise.
The Italian was probably looking at the cut line as he made the turn but produced a nine-hole masterclass of six birdies — including an astonishing five on the last five — to put himself in the outright lead on 10-under-par. And the world No. 124 took it all in his stride.
“I played solid for all 18 holes,” he said. “My putting was solid, my driver, my irons. I gave myself a lot of opportunity for birdies, and so when I had the opportunities, I took it. Every time I was putting for birdie, I made it. It was a great day.”
Matthew Fitzpatrick produced his second flawless round to get into contention, one stroke back from Laporta. The Englishman was joined in second place along with long-time Dubai resident Rafa Cabrera Bello.
The world No. 25 Fitzpatrick already has tasted glory in the UAE as he claimed the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in 2016 and then went on to claim back-to-back titles at the Omega European Masters in Switzerland.
The 25-year-old has not added to his trophy haul since 2018 but he is in contention to pick up his sixth major title here in Abu Dhabi. A bogey-free first-round 68 was followed up by a 67 on Friday to sit on nine-under, with his second round including two birdies on the 17th and 18th — his ninth and 10th as he began on the back nine.
“For the first tweak of the year, to have no bogeys, I couldn’t ask for a better start, really,” he said after his round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.
“I just played really disciplined golf and it’s worked out well so far.”
With this being the Englishman’s first tournament of the year after a season-ending break, Fitzpatrick quickly shook off the rust during his warm-up rounds in the UAE.
“When we went to play nine holes on Tuesday, I felt a little bit uncomfortable. It was all sort of new again after seven weeks off, and then as the round went on, I got into it again. And now it just feels like normal once again.”
Cabrera Bello — a long-time Dubai resident and 2012 Omega Dubai Desert Classic champion — sailed under the radar on Friday but was delighted to be in contention. He had an early wobble with a bogey on the eighth but quickly found his rhythm, picking up five birdies.
“I feel good here and really want to go for another title in my old backyard,” he said.
China’s Haotong Li is one stroke further back on eight-under, with a second round of 69 that produced four birdies and a solitary bogey on the seventh hole.
Li is in a bunch of players lurking in joint fourth place, including former Masters champion Sergio Garcia, and his fellow Italian Renato Paratore, who could have taken command of the championship, had he not slipped up with three bogeys in his round of 72.
“The wind was blowing all the day more or less, and started with a birdie and then missed two greens and made two bogeys,” said the bemused Italian. “But then I stayed focused all the round.”
Lee Westwood, the 2010 Omega Dubai Desert Classic runner-up and winner of 43 top-flight titles, also made a move up the leaderboard thanks to a 68 in the morning of Friday to sit joint seventh alongside American duo Kurt Kitayama and Patrick Cantlay, plus 2010 Open winner Louis Oosthuizen on seven-under.
Dubai-based amateur Josh Hill also had a struggle on day two as he signed for a 76 and sits on six-over, missing the cut.
1 F LAPORTA (ITA) -10
2 M FITZPATRICK (ENG) -9
2 R CABRERA BELLO -9
4 H LI (CHI) -8
4 S GARCIA (ESP) -8
4 R PARATORE (ITA) -8
7 K KITAYAMA (USA) -7
7 L WESTWOOD (ENG) -7
7 P CANTLAY (USA) -7
7 L OOSTHUIZEN (RSA) -7