Careless penalty dents McIlroy's hopes in Abu Dhabi
RORY McIlroy incurred a careless two-stroke penalty today to put a big dent in his title hopes at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
Joint top overnight with Swede Robert Karlsson, the US Open champion had come back from a shaky start with three birdies when his rules blunder came on the 456-yard ninth.
Just off the green in two, McIlroy made the mistake of brushing away sand that was not on the putting surface and the penalty was imposed after a referee had been called.
The 22-year-old world number three fell back to three under par as a result, alongside Tiger Woods and two ahead of Luke Donald, the other member of the group, but four behind joint leaders Karlsson and Dane Thorbjorn Olesen, who added a 67 to his opening 70.
Lee Westwood, meanwhile, battled with a neck problem as he remained level par with another 72 and defending champion Martin Kaymer - winner three of the last four years - missed the cut after improving only four shots on his opening 77.
McIlroy was in two bunkers on the first hole and, with his ball plugged by the green, instantly dropped a shot before paying an even bigger price for going over the green at the third.
It took him two more shots to make it back to the putting surface and by missing from nine feet he ran up a double bogey.
The response was immediate with birdie putts of 20 and 18 feet and a superb bunker shot on the long eighth led to him picking up another stroke.
Woods birdied the first from six feet, but had his first bogey of the tournament on the third after going in bunkers off the tee and short of the green.
The former world number one, seeking back-to-back victories after going more than two years without one, had his second birdie on the eighth, coming out of sand to eight feet and showing a better putting touch than he had in his opening 70.
Westwood was in grave danger of missing the cut after five bogeys in his first 12 holes, but came back with a hat-trick of birdies.
Before going off for treatment the Worksop golfer said: "I've had it for about a month, but this is the first time I've played three days in a row since.
"The pain goes down into my elbow and it feels like somebody is driving a needle in there."
Asked if there was any possibility of him withdrawing during the round he added: "If I'd hit it in the long rough I might have had to think about it, but hopefully I'll be ok tomorrow."