Rory McIlroy presented Tommy Fleetwood with a cake on his 27th birthday

Rory McIlroy presented Tommy Fleetwood with a cake on his 27th birthday

Rory McIlroy produced an eagle on his final hole of a six-under-par round to move within three shots of Thomas Pieters at the Abu Dhabi Championship.

The Northern Irishman, 28, holed a long putt to reach nine under at halfway as Belgium’s Pieters set the pace with a round of 65 on a day of low scoring.

“I stayed patient and feel I got what I deserved on the last,” said McIlroy.

England’s Tommy Fleetwood and Ross Fisher are 10 under, with Paul Casey and Andy Sullivan one further back.

Fisher and Casey have not won on the European Tour since 2014 but looked in fine touch, with Casey firing five birdies and an eagle for a seven-under-par 65.

Good conditions saw the majority of the field post under-par scores, with world number one Dustin Johnson, South Africa’s Branden Grace and Spain’s Jorge Campillo all eight under for their rounds on day two.

Campillo – who has never won on the European Tour – sits second as a result on 11 under. He would have shared the lead had Pieters not holed out from a bunker for birdie on his final hole of the day.

‘Massive’ eagle keeps McIlroy in hunt

Fleetwood, who shared the lead after round one, again looked solid on his 27th birthday. The defending champion dropped his first shot of the championship on the 16th but responded with a birdie on each of his last two holes.

But McIlroy’s 25ft putt after a sublime approach to the par-five 18th ensured he finished with momentum in his first event since ending his 2017 season early to overcome a rib injury.

The 28-year-old described the eagle as “massive” and he is yet to drop a shot during 36 holes in his first event since October.

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Rory McIlroy is showing some good form in his first event since October

“I felt like I gave myself tons of chances on the back nine and it was sort of difficult to convert them,” said McIlroy, who has finished second in the tournament four times.

“Five shots to make up over the weekend is quite a lot, especially with a bunched leaderboard, so to cut that deficit to three, I feel so much closer to the lead.

“I hit the ball very well. I drove it well. I hit most of my iron shots very well. I gave myself plenty of chances, and that’s what I’m going to have to do over the next couple of days, as well, if I want to try and win this tournament.”

News Reporter

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