Stephen Gallacher shares lead in weather-hit second round in Saudi International
On a day when play was suspended for two hours in the early afternoon at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City due to a thunderstorm, Gallacher and Hill both continued to make the most of being among those to be lucky with the weather.
Gallacher, who had started the day one behind England’s David Horsey after an opening eight-under-par 62, recovered from an early bogey to move to 10-under, the 46-year-old Lothians man having six holes left to play when the second circuit is completed on Saturday morning.
“Quite happy,” said Gallacher of his work so far, having repaired a dropped shot at the second by hitting his tee shot to four feet at the par-3 third then making a two-putt birdie at the long fourth.
The four-time tour winner then rolled in a 25-footer for a second 2 at the eighth, where he’d rounded off a blistering run of five straight birdies on the opening day.
Fox, the son of All Blacks legend Grant, had moved ahead of the Scot when he got to 11-under before dropping his only shot of the day at the ninth, where Gallacher had earlier converted a testing par putt.
The Scot tied for 21st in this event last year and is looking forward to the test ahead over the weekend as he bids to claim a third Middle East win after his back-to-back Omega Dubai Desert Classic victories in 2013 and 2014.
“It's a good layout, it’s testing and it's in good condition,” he said of this week’s venue, where Dustin Johnson triumphed in the inaugural event in 2019 before Graeme McDowell, another former US Open champion, followed him into the winner’s enclosure 12 months ago.
Gallacher sits 501st in the world rankings while Fox, who landed his breakthrough win in the 2019 ISPS Handa World Super 6 Perth, is 208th. Johnson, the game’s top-ranked player, is lurking ominously on eight-under with four holes to play, while Tommy Fleetwood and Justin Rose also look dangerous on seven-under.
“I don't know how many of the top 50 in the world are here this week, but it's a lot,” said 34-year-old Fox after signing for a second successive 65 of the star-studded field. “And there's a reason they're there. They're world-class players.
“I certainly hope to be there one day. And, if I can play well this week, then it's a step forward in that direction. If not, it's good experience and a nice finish to my Desert Swing because I don't really know when I'm going to come back out here again.”
Hill, who had opened with a 65, continued to benefit from having Phil ‘Wobbly’ Morbey on his bag this week as the 26-year-old Crook of Devon-based player backed that up with a 68 to sit on seven-under.
“I haven’t had one poor course management decision or bad call,” said Hill of Ian Woosnam’s long-time caddie, having helped the Welshman win the Masters in 1991. “He’s just so professional all the way through. It’s just then down to me to hit the golf shot.”
Morbey was available this week due to Dane Thorbjorn Olesen being injured, having, ironically, opened the door for Hill to get into the Abu Dhabi event two weeks ago late on after testing positive for Covid-19.
“He’s doing me some favours recently,” said Hill, smiling, before adding of Morbey, who is standing in for the Scot’s younger brother, Ian, after he returned home: “It’s definitely a big benefit just to be under his wing during the week and to experience what it's like.”
Hill, a three-time Challenge Tour winner, is relishing the opportunity to go head-to-head with some of the game’s leading lights. “Hit it fractionally better and make one or two more putts, and I should be okay,” he said of heading into the final 36 holes.
“I’ve clearly got the best end of the draw by an amount of margins, so it’s nice to be able to capitalise on that a little bit and hopefully it sets me up for a decent weekend.”
Earlier, Norwegian Viktor Hovland had underlined his Ryder Cup credentials in the company of Ian Poulter, Europe’s talisman in the event.
Hovland, a two-time winner already on the PGA Tour at the age of 23, had already been among those faced with tougher first-round conditions as he opened with a two-under-par 68.
That effort came as the stroke average rose to 70.68 in a strengthening afternoon wind off the Red Sea, having been 68.21 earlier in the day as Horsey and Gallacher shot 61 and 62 respectively.
In wet and windy morning conditions for the second round of the $3.5 million event, Hovland added a brilliant bogey-free 66 to move to six-under, two better than US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau, who still has four holes to play.
“It's awesome,” said Hovland of playing with Poulter in the opening two rounds this week, with European captain Padraig Harrington probably having had a hand in that. “He's obviously a very passionate guy, and it's cool to see that passion come out, even though it's not a Ryder Cup.
“Yeah, I could just kind of picture him and Danny Willett (the third member of the group) in that environment. I'd love to maybe be in the same setting some day.”
Bob MacIntyre sits on one-under after a second-round 68 that contained five birdies, with David Law (70) facing a sweat to see if he will also progress to the weekend on level-par.
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