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  • McIlroy two shots off lead in Abu Dhabi

  • ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Rory McIlroy birdied his last two holes to post a 5-under 67 and lie two shots off the lead two rounds into the Abu Dhabi Championship on Friday.
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  • ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Rory McIlroy birdied his last two holes to post a 5-under 67 and lie two shots off the lead two rounds into the Abu Dhabi Championship on Friday.
    At 7 under overall in the European Tour event, McIlroy was rapt to be in contention for a second win in three tournaments. Playing partner Phil Mickelson was also happy, though in relief to make the cut by two shots at 1 under with a 70 after a first-round 73.
    "I'm really glad I made the cut and I now have a chance over these next two days, because I kind of keyed in on something with my swing starting to feel much better," Mickelson said. "I really need these two days to get my game in shape."
    Mickelson was impressed with McIlroy's form.
    "His game looks really sharp and his driving was impeccable," Mickelson said of McIlroy.
    Tied for the lead were Scotland's Craig Lee (67) and Spain's Rafa Cabrera-Bello (68) at 9 under, a stroke ahead of England's Danny Willett (63), who eagled the par-5 8th hole at National Course beside seven birdies.
    McIlroy was sharing fourth with Argentina's Ricardo Gonzalez (66) and Denmark's Thomas Bjorn (70).
    He was holding the end-of-2013 form that saw him come from behind and defeat Masters champion Adam Scott in the Australian Open in Sydney last month.
    "It's a great position to be in, as I'm only a few off the lead, so I'm excited," McIlroy said.
    He was happy to compare with how he missed the cut a year ago, when he debuted new equipment and left himself and sponsor Nike red-faced. In that humbling display of consecutive 75s were two double bogeys and seven bogeys.
    "Coming off the last green last year, after 36 holes, I was deflated to say the least," he said. "The week didn't go as how I imagined it or how I planned. But it's so much better this year. I'm happy with how I'm playing. I'm striking the ball really well. I got a few putts to drop on the back nine, which was nice. And yeah, I mean, I feel like if I can keep hitting it the way I have been, I've got a great chance to win in this tournament."
    While McIlroy won two tournaments ago in Sydney it has been 13 months since his last success on the European Tour when he birdied his closing five holes in winning the season-ending World Tour Championship in nearby Dubai.
    Cabrera-Bello is also no stranger to winning in the Emirates, having captured the 2012 Dubai Desert Classic. The overnight leader dropped a shot at his last hole, the ninth, to fall into a tie with Lee, who seeks his first win on tour. "I have been practicing hard the last two weeks and trying also to get back into shape, so I'm glad that is all paying off," Cabrera-Bello said.
    Humana Challenge
    At La Quinta, Calif., a day after shooting a 9-under 63 at PGA West's Arnold Palmer Private Course to take the lead, Patrick Reed had another 9-under 63 down the road Friday at tree-lined La Quinta Country Club to stretch his advantage to two strokes over Brendon Todd.
    La Quinta has been that kind of place for the former Baton Rouge, La., high school champion who helped Augusta State win NCAA titles in 2010 and 2011. When Reed earned his PGA Tour card back in 2012, it was at PGA West.
    Todd had a 63 on the Palmer course. He's the only player without a bogey.
    The temperature climbed into the 80s and it was so calm the ponds looked like glass, the water as still as the plastic swans PGA West uses to scare away geese.
    Ryan Palmer was third, three strokes back at 15-under, after a 65 at La Quinta. He also made a short eagle putt on the fifth hole.
    Charley Hoffman, the 2007 winner, was 14-under after a 66 on PGA West's Jack Nicklaus Private Course. He had five straight birdies on the front nine.
    Bill Haas and James Driscoll were 13-under. Haas, the 2010 winner, had a 66 on the Nicklaus course, and Driscoll shot 63 at La Quinta.
    Charlie Beljan was another stroke back, shooting 64 on the Nicklaus course.
    Mitsubishi Electric Championship
    At Kaupulehu-Kona, Hawaii, Rocco Mediate took the first-round lead Friday in the Champions Tour's season-opening Mitsubishi Electric Championship.
    Mediate shot a 9-under 63 at Hualalai Golf Course, playing the first seven holes in 6-under with four birdies and an eagle on the par-5 seventh. He added birdies on Nos. 10, 14 and 18 to finish a stroke ahead of 2012 winner Dan Forsman.
    Mediate won twice last year in his first season on the 50-and-over tour after winning six times on the PGA Tour.
    Forsman had an eagle, seven birdies and a bogey.
    Fred Couples, Fred Funk, Tom Pernice Jr. and Steve Elkington shot 65. Couples played the four par-5 holes in 6-under, eagling Nos. 4 and 7 and birdieing Nos. 10 and 14.
    The 41-player field features major champions from the last five years, other tournament winners in the last two seasons and sponsor invitees.
    Defending champion John Cook had a 69.
    Kenny Perry opened with a 72. He was the player of the year last season, winning three times.
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