Justin Rose opened up a one shot lead at the halfway stage of the UBS Hong Kong Open, but admitted he had one eye on Ryder Cup team-mate Ian Poulter who is hot on his heels just two strokes back.
Rose followed up his opening 65 with a 66 to get to nine under par at the Hong Kong Golf Club and establish a one shot advantage over Denmark’s Lucas Bjerregaard, with Poulter and Lu Wei-chih a further stroke behind.
All eyes have been on Poulter this week after he made a late entry to the tournament following dropping out of the top 50 in the World Ranking.
With his place in the field at the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions under threat, Poulter made a late dash to the Far East in order to guarantee he played the 13 European Tour events necessary to secure his membership for 2016.
And, with the 2010 UBS Hong Kong Open champion just two shots back heading into the weekend, Rose believes his friend and rival will provide a major threat to his position at the top of the leaderboard.
“Poulter is a past champion is and he’s on the leaderboard,” he said. “He’s always good when he’s got something to prove, and he’s probably a dangerous guy now that he’s outside the top 50 in the world, and I know that he’ll be desperate to get back in it. He always plays well when he has motivation, so he’s obviously going to be tough to beat too.”
Rose is the highest-ranked player in the field at World Number Seven and, after starting on the 11th, picked up birdies on the 14th, 18th, third and eighth holes to get to eight under par before dropping his first shot of the week on the difficult ninth.
But the 2013 US Open Champion bounced straight back with a birdie on the tenth to get out in front on his own and was satisfied with his performance.
“I’m very happy with that,” he said. “I felt like I struggled with the recovery overnight. I just felt like body was sore this morning, and today was definitely more of a struggle than yesterday. Yesterday I played such a clean round, I guess it was always going to be more of a struggle. I made a few more mistakes today but salvaged par very well quite a few times.
“Finally the bogey that threatened a few times reared its head on number nine, but I guess I played 34 holes without making a mistake. It’s inevitable you’re going to make one mistake, but it’s out of the way and I don’t have to think about it now. I’ve got to try to play good golf over the weekend, make some birdies, and keep moving forward.
“I again hit a lot of good putts today, and my putts that aren’t going in are threatening the cup, so that’s good. I feel good about my game and if I stay in my process things should work out well, but you can’t afford to get ahead of yourself.”
Poulter also recorded a 66 as he made a flying start with birdies on the 12th, 14th, 17th and 18th. He dropped a shot on the first but then got it back on the third in spectacular fashion as he splashed out of the bunker and holed a 45-foot putt.
Another birdie followed on the fourth, before he dropped a shot on the ninth to sit on seven under alongside Lu.
“I don’t play to take part – obviously I play to win,” said Poulter. “Even coming in as late as I did, my mind was focused on shooting a good score yesterday, and today was really key. And I know this golf course, I’ve shot 60 around here before.
“So even though I had not played a practice round, I’ve got good memories on this golf course. I’ve had a couple of top fives in the last five years around here, as well. So I know the place and I like it. Hopefully I can have a good weekend.”
Lu had got back into a share of top spot after his first nine holes as he recorded four birdies and a bogey, but a double on the par five third saw him fall back.
European Tour Rookie of the Year contenders Matthew Fitzpatrick and Anirban Lahiri both shot second round 67s to sit at six under alongside YE Yang, who added a 66 to his opening 68.
Graeme McDowell moved to five under after a 69 which featured five birdies and four bogeys, while American Ryder Cup star Patrick Reed fired a 69 to sit at three under. There was no such luck for hios fellow countryman Dustin Johnson, however, as the World Number Eight missed the cut at one over after a 72.