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McIlroy moves closer in Abu Dhabi

(Photo: Bruce Young)
Scotland's Craig Lee edged closer to his first title triumph on The European Tour when he moved into a share of the lead with Spain's Rafa Cabrera-Bello at the halfway stage of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.

The duo finished the day on nine under par 135 after Lee posted a 67 to Cabrera-Bello's 68 on the immaculate National Course, both men one shot clear of England's Danny Willett who provided the pick of the second day's cards with a stunning 63 for eight under par 136.

Lee has come close in recent times, most notably last September when the 36 year old from Stirling was denied silverware by veteran Thomas Björn in a play-off for the Omega European Masters at Crans-sur-Sierre in Switzerland, and the spectre of the Great Dane loomed large again in the desert as he moved into a share of fourth place with Rory McIlroy and Ricardo Gonzalez.

But Lee continued to remain focused on the task in hand. "Obviously there are a lot of leaderboards out there and I'm not one of those golfers who shies away from looking at them "“ I like to know what's going on and who's around me," said the Scot, who posted seven birdies in total to counteract his two bogeys.

"Coming in from the winter, you never know just how rusty you are going to feel or how your game is going to be. I did hit a few loose shots here and there but I managed to get by holing a few good putts "“ I think Santa definitely brought me a good putting stroke for Christmas."

Joint leader Cabrera-Bello, one of three pacesetters after round one, had a chance to lead outright but dropped only his second shot of the day at the ninth hole "“ his 18th "“ to slip back alongside Lee.

"All in all, I'm pretty happy with the way things are going," said the two time European Tour champion, whose last victory came in nearby Dubai in the Desert Classic two years ago. "I'm putting the ball in the fairway and pretty confident with all the clubs in my bag."

In third spot going into the weekend, Englishman Willett owed the prominence to his lowest round to par in his European Tour career; his nine under par 63 featuring seven birdies and an eagle three at the eighth where he pitched in from 50 yards.

But he "“ and the two leaders "“ are being pursued by an imposing chasing pack, led by two time Major Champion and former World Number One McIlroy and 15 time European Tour champion Björn, the current leader of The Race to Dubai.

McIlroy posted a 67 - which included a double bogey six at the fourth "“ and professed himself more than content with his day's work. "Yep, really happy with that," said the Northern Irishman. "I gave myself a target of four under par for my back nine which I thought would get me into contention for the weekend, and I went one better. It's great to be in the mix going into the last 36 holes."

Björn matched McIlroy's 67 but, unlike his younger competitor, did most of his damage on the front nine where five birdies helped him cover the stretch in 31 blows. "It was a good day's work," he said. "When I hit the ball the way I did today, the numbers on the card suddenly get better. Hopefully I can keep it going into the weekend."

The cut fell at level par 144, the most notable casualty being last year's Race to Dubai champion Henrik Stenson, whose second round 72 saw him end his first tournament of 2014 on two over par 146. It was the first missed cut on The European Tour for the Swede since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in October 2012.

The leading Australian and only one to make the cut was Wade Ormsby who is in a share of third position and seven shots from the lead

Leading second round scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship at Abu Dhabi GC (par 72)

135 C Lee (Sco) 68 67, R Cabrera-Bello (Esp) 67 68,
136 D Willett (Eng) 73 63,
137 R Gonzalez (Arg) 71 66, R McIlroy (Nir) 70 67, T Björn (Den) 70 67,
138 G Coetzee (RSA) 68 70, J Luiten (Ned) 68 70, T Fleetwood (Eng) 73 65,
139 M Baldwin (Eng) 67 72, P Larrazábal (Esp) 69 70, M Siem (Ger) 69 70,
140 T Jaidee (Tha) 70 70, D Fichardt (RSA) 70 70, P Hanson (Swe) 70 70, R Karlsson (Swe) 73 67, T Hatton (Eng) 69 71, M Hoey (Nir) 69 71, A Cañizares (Esp) 71 69, G Bhullar (Ind) 72 68, P McGinley (Irl) 68 72,
141 A Quiros (Esp) 71 70, C Montgomerie (Sco) 73 68, M Jiménez (Esp) 73 68, O Fisher (Eng) 69 72, H Otto (RSA) 70 71, D Van Der Walt (RSA) 68 73, M Kaymer (Ger) 70 71, M Warren (Sco) 68 73, T Lewis (Eng) 71 70, E Molinari (Ita) 70 71, J Jeong (Kor) 70 71,
142 E Pepperell (Eng) 70 72, W Ormsby (Aus) 69 73, R Santos (Por) 70 72, N Elvira (Esp) 72 70, D McGrane (Irl) 70 72, S Webster (Eng) 69 73, M Kieffer (Ger) 71 71, M Carlsson (Swe) 71 71, R Wattel (Fra) 67 75, B Stone (RSA) 71 71,

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