Tiger Woods edges closer to top in Abu Dhabi tourney

Tiger Woods shot a three under par 69 Friday in the second round of the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship and is now two shots off the lead.

Kamran Jebreili/AP
Tiger Woods plays a shot on the 18th hole in front of the falcon-shaped club house during the second round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, Friday, Jan. 27, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

Tiger Woods moved into contention after the second round of the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship with a 3-under 69 Friday, two shots behind leader Thorbjorn Olesen of Denmark.

Olesen shot a 67, making seven birdies in his first 12 holes for a one-shot lead over 18-year-old Gareth Maybin of Northern Ireland (70) and Matteo Mannasero of Italy (65).

"For me it's very special. It's not many years ago I was watching them on TV," Olesen said of the world's best golfers. "I know it's tough, but I'm trying to keep playing my own game and do my best."

Woods had three straight birdies on the back nine to finish at 5-under 139.

He started slowly before making three birdies over five holes. Woods dropped a shot on the 16th after an errant drive landed in deep rough.

"I thought I played well today," Woods said. "I made a couple putts here and there, but it was tough out there. The greens got a little quicker, a little bit drier and the rough is certainly getting deeper and more lush."

The best score of the day came from Manassero, who made seven birdies in a bogey-free round.

Woods is tied for fourth in a group that includes Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy (72) and Robert Karlsson of Sweden (72).

Spain's Sergio Garcia (69), Ireland's Padraig Harrington (69) and South Africa's Charl Schwartzel (70) were at 140.

It was a day of mixed fortunes at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club. McIlroy's round was marred by a two-shot penalty for brushing away sand in front of his ball, which sat on the fringe on the ninth. Fourth-ranked Martin Kaymer (73) failed to make the cut in a tournament he has won three times. Meanwhile, a relatively unknown 22-year-old Dane surged into the lead of the star-studded tournament in a bid to win his first event on the European Tour.

Much of the attention was on Woods, who is trying to follow up his season-ending victory last month at the Chevron World Challenge with another win. That ended a two-year run without a victory, a period in which the 14-time major winner endured a series of injuries and turmoil in his personal life.

Woods had a bogey-free first round but admitted the greens fooled him much of the day. He seemed to figure them out Friday, making several key putts including a 10-footer for his final birdie on the 15th.

But he said players were "grinding along" and it was anyone's tournament to win with the leaderboard featuring nine players within two shots of Olesen.

Woods is optimistic the changes in his swing instituted by new coach Sean Foley are paying off.

"Certainly I have much more experience within the system, and I've grown to understand what Sean wants me to do and how my body is going to do those things and produce the numbers he wants me to produce," Woods said. "If you would have asked me (six to eight months ago) if I would understand the system as well as I do and the numbers I'm producing, I probably would have said no ... Now I do and when we talk, it's very simple."

While Woods was the picture of consistency Friday, the big-hitting McIlroy took fans on a rollercoaster ride after holding a share of the lead after the first round.

The 22-year-old U.S. Open champion, playing with Woods for a second day, opened with a bogey and double bogey after an errant drive and some shaky putting. He rallied with three birdies before a double bogey on the ninth. That's where he got a two-shot penalty for brushing away the sand in front of his ball. Playing partner Luke Donald (72) spotted the infraction and called him on it.

Rather than get rattled, McIlroy produced two birdies on the next three holes to end at even par.

"Obviously, that wasn't the best start, 3 over through three. I battled back really well to get it back to even par after eight," McIlroy said. "Made a mistake on 9 when I brushed the sand off the green, wasn't thinking clearly and a penalty there. Felt like I played the back nine well. Even par, considering everything that happened out there today, is a decent score."Players are allowed to brush away sand on the green but not on the fringe.

"I mean, my ball was just maybe six feet off the green and there was a lot of sand in between my ball and the hole. I just brushed the sand and Luke was like, 'I don't think you can brush sand off the fringe,'" he said. "And I'm like, 'Oh, yeah, you're right'. Just one of those things ... You're going to get a bad deal every now and again, and just have to take it on the chin and try and come back and get the shots back as quick as possible."

Kaymer headlined the list of 60 players to miss the cut of 2 over. The 27-year-old German, who had come in as a favorite after his past success on the course, blamed putting for his troubles.

"Expectations were very high," he said. "When you go to a tournament where you've played very well in the past, you expect you're going to be successful somehow and it hasn't happened this week. It's OK. I practiced hard in the winter and it will come together at some stage."

British Open winner Darren Clark also missed the cut after shooting a 9-over 153. Others failing to qualify for play on the weekend included Colin Montgomerie of Scotland (147), Edoardo Molinari of Italy (149), American Todd Hamilton (149) and Michael Campbell of New Zealand (149).

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