RORY MCILROY HAD to settle for a par round of 72 at day two of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.
Gareth Maybin moved to six under par and a share of second place on the leaderboard.
McIlroy finished day one with a share of the lead, but inconsistency today has halted that momentum.
The Northern Irishman was handed a two stroke penalty on the ninth after he brushed away sand that was not on the putting surface – an infraction of the hazard rules pointed out to him by his playing partner.
“Luke (Donald) said ‘I don’t think you can do that” McIlroy told Sky Sports, “and then I was like ‘Oh yeah I can’t, can I?’ It twigged on me straightaway.”
“It undid all the great work I’d done after the bad start, but JP (Fitzgerald) said ‘It’s only Friday, it’s not as if these things are happening to you on a Sunday afternoon.”
It was his second double-bogey of the day following a disastrous third hole. Mixed with his carelessness, though, was brilliance: three birdies and three pars ensured he would limit the damage to just two over par on his front nine, leaving him on three under overall alongside his playing partner Tiger Woods.
Bouncing straight back with a birdie on the 10th should have made for a much more satisfactory home stretch for the 22-year-old. Yet on 11, another double bogey was on the cards until a brilliant 14-footer gave him a five on the par four.
It was a day in which McIlroy spent far too much time with his sand wedge. The Down man was in the bunker twice on the first hole alone and again on the eight and 11th. The par score across 18 holes was down to great success with his putter, a noteable shortcoming in three of his major outings last year.
From the 11th onward it was relative plain sailing for the US Open champion, recording two birdies and five pars on his way back to the clubhouse. It is a mixed round sees him slip down the leaderboard. But sitting just two shots behind the leader, Thorbjorn Oleson, he will still feel he is well in contention.
Rough with the smooth
Woods, for his part, kept pace with McIlroy from the turn and also ended the day on five under having carded a round of 69. That score was matched by Padraig Harrington who, adding to his solid start yesterday, will be content to be just a shot behind the joint favourites on four under par. Graeme McDowell is a shot further back.
While his countryman was mixing the rough with the smooth, Maybin, was continuing to show the utmost consistency. The Belfast man has yet to record a single bogey over 36 holes and his two under par today leaves him level with Matteo Manassero, a shot off the lead.
Elsewhere in the field, Shane Lowry and Damien McGrane look set to miss the cut. McGrane went round the course in 72 today, unable to claw back any of his six shots over par on day one. Lowry shares the plus six scoreline after a disappointing 77 today consisting of three double bogeys, one bogey and just two birdies.