He might be about to play a starring role in the European Tour’s latest social media venture, an Alcoholics Anonymous-style meeting of “Angry Golfers,” but Tyrrell Hatton was all smiles when encroaching darkness called a premature halt to the second round of the tour’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. Five holes short of the clubhouse, the World No. 10 is 12 under par and five shots clear of a four-strong group that includes overnight leader Rory McIlroy.
Quite apart from Hatton’s five under par through 13 holes effort, it was a good Friday for at least three other members of the 31-strong English contingent in the 132-man field gathered in the largest of the United Arab Emirates. Matthew Southgate’s 65 was low round of the truncated proceedings. Tommy Fleetwood, three over par after 11 holes of his opening round, is now six under par at the halfway stage after a bogey-free 67. And Matt Wallace is also six under with six holes to play early on day three.
“Today I did things a lot better,” he said with a smile. “I drove it really, really well and that made such a big difference in the wind. I also hit some great irons and holed out really well. I didn’t really give anything away. So it was a much better day. No matter how much testing you do with new clubs, you still have to take them out on the course. So today has given me a lot of confidence.”
All of which is in stark contrast to the stuttering performance of McIlroy. Having reached 10 under par with a birdie-par-birdie start to his second round, the Northern Irishman swung into reverse with an unexpected and immediate slump in fortunes. Three bogeys and a double bogey followed, lapses only partly compensated for by a brace of birdies.
Still, it was Hatton’s day. And he was understandably happy with his overall play. An eagle at the par-5 second, his third of the week, and four birdies in succession from the seventh highlighted his card. Only once, at the par-4 third where he “short-sided” himself with an errant approach and was unable to get up-and-down, has he dropped a shot so far.
“I’m obviously in a great position at the moment,” he said. “It was certainly tough out there. So I’m really happy to be five under. I holed some nice putts, including a couple for par towards the end of my round. They kept my momentum going.”
That much at least left the leader a little nonplussed. Over the holiday period, Hatton had focused most of his attention and practice on his long game.
“It’s a little bit of a surprise to see my short game as good as it has been last two days,” he said. “I need that to stay with me. I’ve got five holes left to play tomorrow morning. If I finish nicely it’s going to be a bit of a long wait before I go out for round three. But it will be fine. I’ll just try and stay loose and see how we go.”
One last thing. On a typically cosmopolitan leader board, there is American representation. But not perhaps the American many would have nominated before the start of what will be four Rolex Series events on the European Tour this year. While the no-doubt expensively imported former PGA champion Justin Thomas is (with four holes to play) a distant T-48 on the current cut mark of one under par, compatriot David Lipsky is alongside Fleetwood and eight others in a tie for sixth spot.