'Good golf' gets Marc Warren in the mix on his Abu Dhabi return

Marc Warren, who played in the first 13 editions of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship before missing out the last two years during a slump in form, is enjoying playing some “good golf” on his return to one of the biggest stages on the European Tour.

Marc Warren eagled the last for a six-under-par 66 in his second round in Abu Dhabi. Picture: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images.

Among the players unable to finish their first round on Thursday due to a fog delay, the 39-year-old closed with two pars for an opening level-par 72 before starting his second circuit with a bogey as he headed straight back out again at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

At that stage, Warren was probably heading for an early exit in the $8 million Rolex Series event but not now. Instead, he’s set to be in the mix at the halfway stage after covering the remaining stretch in a brilliant seven-under-par.

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In a classy display, the Glaswegian birdied the third, sixth, 10th, 11th and 13th before signing off with an eagle-3 at the 18th for a 66, which matched his best effort on one of the toughest courses on the European circuit.

Tommy Fleetwood tees off on the ninth hole during day two of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. Picture: Andrew Redington/Getty Images.

“Maybe it was a good thing,” said Warren, who leapt into the top 10 on the back of his effort, of having to play 20 holes in one day, “as I seemed to get better as the day went on.

“I struggled off the tee early on, just couldn’t quite seem to get loosened up. I was struggling to apply any power to the longer shots and felt I was forcing them and wasn’t hit a lot of fairways.

“But my iron play was solid, so I was still hitting plenty of greens and felt I was churning out a lot of pars. The par-5s were all reachable, but I didn’t hit good enough tee shots to take advantage of those, so I was around level-par.

“But I had a great back nine, driving it well and it was nice to finish with an eagle-3 at the last, hitting two good shots to about 10-12 foot and rolling the putt in.”

Warren was equally pleased with his birdie at the par-4 13th, adding: “I holed about a 30-footer, which was a bonus as it was downhill and I was just trying to get it close to the hole and it fell in.”

The Scot, who will now be hoping to kick on over the weekend and improve on a previous best finish of joint-26th in 2009, missed the UAE event for the first time in 2019 after losing his full card at the end of the previous season.

He didn’t make the line up either 12 months ago after slipping to 215th in the Race to Dubai in 2019 before a return to winning ways in the Austrian Open last summer helped secure his seat back at the table on this occasion.

“Just enjoying playing well,” said Warren of having managed to turn his career around, having backed up that victory in the first event after the circuit’s Covid-19 lockdown with a top-five finish in the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open at The Renaissance Clu in September. “Since winning in Austria I feel my form has been pretty consistent.

“I struggled a little bit with injury after that and was only three-quarters fit for the UK Swing. But, after that, I started to play a bit better again and finished the year pretty solid with a nice top 10 in Dubai then a solid performance in the DP World Tour Championship and now I have started the year with a couple of nice rounds here.

“I’m just enjoying some good golf. It was a long couple of years and hopefully I have put that behind me and I am looking forwards and upwards now.”

Tommy Fleetwood, a two-time winner of this event, is alongside Warren on six-under - the pair sit in a tie for sixth, six shots behind Tyrrell Hatton, who has five holes to play in his second round - after the Englishman used the overnight break in that opening round to turn his tournament around.

The world No 19 had turned in 39, three-over, on Thursday afternoon before covering the inward journey in four-under 32 on his return and then going out to add a bogey-free 67.

“Slept on it,” said Fleetwood, smiling, of his turnaround in an interview for Sky Sports Golf. “That clearly made a difference. “Yesterday, I struggled, walked off and sat there last night and talked to Finno (caddie Ian Finnis) and Tommo (coach Alan Thompson) and I think I just forced it a little bit.

“It was an all-around bad ten holes. It was really windy going out there in tough conditions and I think I tried to force a few golf shots, trying too hard to hit good golf shot and didn't do the things that we work on, really. So that was just something that we spoke about.

“Today, I came out and stiffed it on 12 and got playing again and got going. Yeah, today, I did things a lot better. Did what we discussed in my golf swing and drove it really, really well. Hit some great irons. Holed out really well. Didn't really give anything away. So it was a much better day, really.”

The newly-turned 30-year-old is making his first competitive outing with a new set of TaylorMade clubs and is also using the same company’s new ball for the first time in the opening event of the new European Tour campaign.“They are going really well,” he said of the sticks. “Got thrown in the deep end, really, yesterday with the conditions. But today has given me a lot of confidence.”

Warren will definitely be joined in the final two rounds by Scott Jamieson (three-under) and Grant Forrest (two-under), with Calum Hill also just inside the projected cut on one-under.

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