Desert specialists thriving in Abu Dhabi

Matthew Fitzpatrick was one of a host of desert specialists looking to chase down Francesco Laporta as the 2020 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship presented by EGA got set for a dramatic weekend.

Matthew Fitzpatrick

The first Rolex Series event of the 2020 Race to Dubai had brought an elite field to the Middle East, with Fitzpatrick just one shot off the lead alongside 2016 Ryder Cup team-mate Rafa Cabrera Bello.

Major Champion Sergio Garcia was then two shots back alongside two time European Tour winner Li Haotong and 2017 Nordea Masters winner Renato Paratore.

Garcia has two wins on the Desert Swing, while Cabrera Bello, Fitzparick and Li have all also tasted victory on the European Tour in the Middle East.

And with no bogeys in his first 36 holes, Fitzpatrick is keen to get back in the winner's circle after failing to lift a trophy in 2019, the first fruitless season of his European Tour career.

"For me every event is the same, you're here to win," he said. "For the first week of the year, to have no bogeys, couldn't ask for a better start, really. I just played really disciplined golf and it's worked out well so far."

Cabrera Bello has based himself in the United Arab Emirates and he was feeling very much at home after a 68 that saw him hole long puts on the 11th and 13th.

"I don't feel alien at all," he said. "I've always said it, it reminds me a bit of the Canary Islands, playing in the sun and in the wind and seeing palm trees, that's how I grew up playing. So it brings back great memories. 

"They are good courses, all of them, superb. It's always interesting conditions and it's always nice to start the year here, start fresh, and try to play some good golf."

Garcia's 69 was two shots higher than his opening effort but with tougher conditions greeting the players on day two, he was glad to stay right in the mix.

"You want to be around the lead if you can't be leading," he said. "We'll see at the end of the week. 

"Today was an easy day to shoot even or one over the way the course was playing and then you fall quite a bit behind. I managed not to do that and I think I'm happy with that."

Li missed the cut on both of his previous visits to Abu Dhabi Golf Club and he is confident he knows why he is dong better this week.

"It's been a grind the whole day and especially the last few holes are not that easy," he said. 

"My short game has improved a lot over the last year and I think that's the reason I get the results, I get a lot of up-and-downs from there.

"I've been working very, very hard, especially with my coach and whole team. I changed management company as well. It's a lot of change this year but I'm glad to see everything works."

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