David Law in contention in Abu Dhabi after blistering birdie burst
David Law, the newly-married Aberdonian, has the leader in his sights at the halfway stage in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship after kicking up a desert storm with a brilliant burst of five straight birdies in the second round of the Rolex Series event.
The 28-year-old, who recorded his breakthrough success on the European Tour with victory in the ISPS Handa Vic Open just under a year ago, transformed his day with the eye-catching thrust up the leaderboard in the UAE, where Italian Francesco Laporta emulated the feat later in the day to set the halfway pace.
Law, who had finished birdie-birdie to card an opening two-under 70 at the demanding Abu Dhabi Golf Club, was one-over for the day at the turn and fighting hard to stay patient before enjoying his best run of holes in 43 appearances on the circuit.
It was sparked by a 12-foot putt being converted at the tenth, with successes from 15 feet and 30 feet following at the next two holes in the company of two fellow Scots, Grant Forrest and Calum Hill. Law then chipped in at the par-4 13th before holing from 15 feet at the next with a hot putter back in his hands.
"It was a good day's work and I'm delighted with it," admitted Law after signing for a 68 to sit on six-under, four shots behind Laporta, last season's Challenge Tour No 1, in the $7 million tournament.
"I got off to a slow start and wasn't playing too great to begin with. I stayed patient, though, and was rewarded for that. It's the first time I've made five birdies in a row out here, though I did it on the Challenge Tour in Switzerland a few years back.
"It's especially good to have a burst like that on a Friday when you are close to the cut mark in a big event like this. It just shows you can score on a course like this, even though it's a tough test. The greens are good, so you are going to have chances if you are approaching them from the fairway."
While Law's win in Australia, which came in just his fifth event as a full card holder, secured him a two-year exemption, the two-time Scottish Amateur champion struggled last season to achieve the consistency he is looking for to enjoy a prolonged career on the European Tour.
He's been working with his coach, Alan McCloskey, on getting a higher ball flight, which is already paying dividends here, while Law also feels he is benefitting from starting to feel more at home in his workplace after being among four Scots to graduate at the start of last season.
"Feeling you belong out here definitely helps," he declared. "Even though I won early last season, you are a wee bit, not intimidated, but not overly comfortable, let's say. The win went a huge way to making me feel more comfortable, but you only start to feel that the longer you are out here."
Looking ahead to the final two rounds, Law, who is mentored and managed by Paul Lawrie through the Five Star Sports Agency, added: "In these sort of situations, you try to take advantage of them as much as you can. I'll be looking for more of the same over the weekend. Scores are out there if you drive it well. The main thing is to keep driving it well and that's been the main strength so far over the first two days."
Richie Ramsay, one of the straighter-hitters on the circuit, started his 12th consecutive season by comfortably making the cut on four-under, one ahead of David Drysdale, with the aforementioned Forrest and Scott Jamieson also progressing to the weekend on two-under and one-under respectively.
"I didn’t think I was striking the ball all that well, but I managed my game well and I drove it very well, which is a big thing around here," said Ramsay, who made birdies in six holes around the turn as he signed for a 69.
“It is my first event of the new season and this is a golf course that tests every part of your game. The greens are quite wide, but you have a lot of cross winds with the pins tucked on the side, so you end up hitting everything in the bag - rescue clubs, 4-irons, wedges, the lot."
Twelve months after shooting up the leaderboard on the back of a brilliant 65 here, it was another fruitful Friday for Forrest as he matched playing partner Law's 68. "I think I like Fridays at this event," said the 26-year-old, smiling, after an effort that contained five birdies.
One of those could easily have been an eagle as a 20-foot putt for a 3 at the 18th caught the edge of the hole but spun away. "That was one of the smellier ones I've had out here," admitted Forrest, who started the 2020 season by tying for fourth in Mauritius last month and looks set for a strong second campaign at the top table in European golf.
Laporta, who won the season-ending Grand Final to pip Hill for top spot in the Challenge Tour's Road to Mallorca Rankings last season, produced his rousing finish in front of Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington.
After a brilliant 63, the 29-year-old leads by a shot from England's Matt Fitzpatrick and Spaniard Rafa Cabrera Bello, with his compatriot Sergio Garcia a shot further back alongside China's Haotong Li and another Italian, Renato Paratore.
"Every time I was putting for birdie, I made it. It was a great day," said Laporta. "I didn't start the season good. I missed the cut in South Africa two times, and this is the third event and I'm leading, so I just want to enjoy the weekend."
Fitzpatrick is bogey-free for the opening 36 holes, a rare feat on this demanding layout. "It's a great start," said the 25-year-old Englishman of having opened with scores of 68 and 67. One his main goals this season is to make the European team for the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits in September.
"Expecting the same as last year, when I had high expectations, high goals," he added. "Those haven't really changed too much. Just the addition of the Ryder Cup this year. I'd obviously like to be on that team, but I don't want to make it too big a deal. I know I did that last time and probably didn't play well because of it."
Cabrera Bello, the 2017 Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open champion, earned his share of the lead by picking up five birdies in seven holes around the turn after being one over for the day.
It was an uncharacteristic scrappy second day for world No 1 Brooks Koepka, who had two double-bogeys and three bogeys in a 75 that dropped him from one off the lead overnight to seven behind Laporta.
"Timing was a bit off," said the four-time major winner. "Other than the first two holes, it was a bit of a disaster. Going to go to the range and just figure it out. It will take 15 balls."
Shane Lowry, the defending champion, missed the cut by a shot after finishing 5-6, taking his frustration out on the face of a bunker at the 18th after needing two shots to escape from it.
Bryson DeChambeau, the world No 16 and defending champion in next week's Omega Dubai Desert Classic, also made an early exit, as did Hill, who agonisingly out by a shot after a round that included a three-putt from close range, Stephen Gallacher and Lawrie.