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Thomas Pieters leads in Abu Dhabi as Dusting Johnson, Rory McIlroy lurk

Belgium’s Thomas Pieters plays a shot on the 10th hole during the second round of the Abu Dhabi Championship golf tournament in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Friday, Jan. 19, 2018. (Kamran Jebreili / Associated Press)
Belgium’s Thomas Pieters plays a shot on the 10th hole during the second round of the Abu Dhabi Championship golf tournament in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Friday, Jan. 19, 2018. (Kamran Jebreili / Associated Press)
Associated Press

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Thomas Pieters holed a bunker shot for a closing birdie and shot a second-round 65 to take a one-stroke lead at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship on Friday as top-ranked Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy moved into contention.

Johnson shook off the jet lag after his ragged opening-round 72 to shoot a bogey-free 8-under 64, tied for the low round of the tournament, and was four shots back. He won by eight shots two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii.

“It was pretty easy for a 64. I did everything really well. I drove it well. I hit a lot of really good iron shots,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of good putts that didn’t go in the hole from pretty close range, but all day, I gave myself really good chances for birdies. Yeah, it was pretty stress-free.”

McIlroy, playing his first event since October, finished with an eagle on the par-5 18th and was three shots behind Pieters after a 66. The former world No. 1 is coming off a winless 2017 and plans a busy schedule in the run-up to the Masters. He’s a four-time runner-up in Abu Dhabi.

“I always struggle to read these greens, the color of them, and I feel like I’m hitting good putts and they are just sliding by the edges,” McIlroy said. “But it was nice, I stayed patient and feel like I got what I deserved on the last for staying so patient, and it was nice to finish with a three, leapfrog a few guys and get myself into contention for the weekend.”

Jorge Campillo of Spain trailed Pieters by one shot after a 64. The defending champion and last year’s Race to Dubai winner, Tommy Fleetwood – grouped with Johnson and McIlroy on his 27th birthday – was another shot back, along with Alexander Levy and Ross Fisher.

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