Rick Kulacz leads Abu Dhabi Golf Championship after birdie blitz
Little-known Australian Rick Kulacz blazed 11 birdies in a nine-under-par 63 second round to snatch a one-shot halfway lead at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship.
The 24-year-old Perth native secured limited playing rights on the European Tour with a final round 64 at Q-School last year - a round he rates as his best ever given what was at stake - but was handed a spot in the field this week via a sponsors invite.
And the two-time winner on the Asian Tour took full advantage to charge up the leaderboard to 12-under-par and clear of Sergio Garcia, Shane Lowry and Peter Hanson.
While Kulacz's round, a figure Paul Casey also posted en route to winning last year, is an achievement in itself, it is make more remarkable given the fact he was so unhappy with his pre-tournament practice he needed a phone call to his coach back home on Wednesday to iron out the flaws in his game.
"I was just in the zone. I tried to get it on the green and every putt went in, it was just one of those days where everything went right," said Kulacz, who dropped just one shot in his first round 69.
"That round is definitely top five in my career. I think the one at Q-School was better under the circumstances; to get to Europe was pretty special."
Kulacz shot a final round 65 to come back from four behind to win New South Wales Open as amateur in 2006, while he achieved a first win as a professional courtesy of a chip in on the first play-off hole at the 2008 Brunei Open.
"I will have to see if I can deal with the pressure, it's a totally different story than Q-School," added Kulacz. "The players are the best in the world excluding the USA and they are way too good to go backwards."
Irish Open champion Lowry carded a bogey-free seven-under-par 65, world number 13 Garcia dropped just one shot in a 67, while Sweden's Hanson went one better with a flawless five-under-par second round over The National Course at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.
Former champion and last year's runner-up Martin Kaymer (67), Chris Wood, who carded a bogey-free 64, and Rhys Davies (68) are just a further shot off the pace with Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter in a group at nine-under-par.
Defending champion Casey beat the cut with a second round 69 to advance to the weekend alongside Italian amateur Matteo Manassero after the British amateur winner crucially birdied the last to card a 72.
But European number one Lee Westwood crashed out after citing a prolonged Christmas break and a new set of irons as the reasons for his 78 which included six bogeys.
"Yesterday was just a really good 69, it could have easily been 77 the way I played," he said. "I got away with murder yesterday and today I didn't."
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