Welcome back Rory McIlroy - Stunning eagle on 18 has Irishman right in contention in Abu Dhabi
Rory McIlroy spoke of his desire to get back to winning ways last week, and the Irishman is certainly going about it the right way in his first tournament of 2018.
McIlroy holded a brilliant eagle on the 18th to card a second-day 66 to leave himself on -9 and just three shots off leader Thomas Pieters in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
It was a flawless 18 for McIlroy, with birdies on the fourth, eighth, eleventh and twelfth before an eagle three on 18 to set up an exciting weekend.
Ireland's Paul Dunne is making steady progress following a second-round 70.
"Welcome back Rory!"— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) January 19, 2018
McIlroy eagles the 18th to finish at 9 under par 👏🏻👏🏻 pic.twitter.com/1QKT60ykZy
Dunne carded three birdies - at the third, eighth and 14th - with his only dropped shot coming at the sixth to add to an impressive -4 68 yesterday.
That bogey on the sixth was the Wicklow man's only dropped shot in his first 36 holes and leaves him tied for ninth and six shots behind leader Thomas Pieters who fired a superb 65 to set a daunting clubhouse target on day two.
Pieters, who won a record four points on his debut at Hazeltine in 2016, holed out from a bunker on the ninth - his final hole - for one of his seven birdies to reach 12 under par, two clear of playing partner Ross Fisher.
Fisher carded a second consecutive 67 as the players took advantage of perfect conditions at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, with two-time winner Paul Casey a shot further back alongside Australia's Sam Brazel following a 65.
"I made a good eight-footer on four for par, which is probably the best putt I hit all day," Pieters told Sky Sports. "But the conditions are perfect, no wind. It's nice out there so you need to take advantage of the conditions.
"We have a decent game plan. I've done well here in the past [fourth in 2015 and second in 2016] and it suits me. We hit driver wherever we can and the rest of it is good ball-striking and going at a couple flags with wedges when you have them."
Pieters, Fisher and Casey were all members of the European team which won the EurAsia Cup in Kuala Lumpur last week, with Casey having rejoined the European Tour after a three-year absence in order to be eligible for September's Ryder Cup.
"I know this course very well," Casey said. "It seems like I've got good memories of every hole so it's about drawing from those past experiences.
"I suppose ultimately it means nothing in the grand scheme of things because you can't control what other guys do, but the biggest motivation is that (Martin) Kaymer has won here three times and I've got two. I see him in Arizona all the time and he doesn't let me forget it!"
Rory McIlroy is currently out on the course hoping to challenge following a 69 yesterday.
Additional reporting by PA