MATT FITZPATRICK grabbed four birdies on the back nine for the second day in a row to lie tied fifth at the halfway stage of the UBS Hong Kong Open in Fanling.
Sheffield’s Fitzpatrick – who won the British Masters a fortnight ago – carded a second consecutive three-under-par 67 and trail leader Justin Rose by three.
The Hallamshire GC man dropped a shot in a listless outward half, but birdied holes 12, 13, 14 and 17 on the way in.
World No 7 Rose, who is the top ranked player in the field, added a 66 to his opening 65 to claim the halfway lead on nine under par, one shot ahead of Denmark’s Lucas Bjerregaard, who carded a second successive 66.
Ian Poulter is just two shots off the lead after also returning a 66 despite being without his regular caddie and only arriving in Hong Kong at 7pm on Wednesday.
Poulter dropped out of the world’s top 50 on Sunday and was therefore ineligible for his planned appearance in the upcoming WGC-HSBC Champions event in Shanghai, meaning he would be unable to play the 13 events required for European Tour membership.
Only members can qualify for Europe’s Ryder Cup team and that required the 39-year-old to make a frantic journey from Orlando to Hong Kong, via New York, but only after former US PGA champion Rich Beem generously agreed to give the Englishman his tournament invite.
“Poulter is a past champion is and he’s on the leaderboard,” Rose 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.”
As for his own form, Rose carded five birdies and his first bogey of the week on the penultimate hole of his round before seeking treatment for a minor hip problem.
“I felt like I struggled with the recovery overnight,” added the former US Open champion, who played in the Frys.com Open in California last week. “I just felt like my body was sore and (Friday) was definitely more of a struggle than Thursday.
“I don’t know what it is. My left hip is really sore. A bit of physio and relaxing, and I’ll try and figure that out. Maybe I wasn’t quite clearing through the ball as well as in the first round, but I’ll be fine.
“Obviously I’m in a wonderful position going into the weekend. This course gave me some trouble last time I played it, so it was nice to figure out more of a decent game plan, which has paid off so far.”
Poulter carded six birdies and two bogeys and insisted he was focused on more than just fulfilling his membership requirements as he looks to win the title for the second time.
“I don’t play to take part, I obviously play to win,” said Poulter, who won the title in 2010 and has two other top-five finishes in Fanling. “Even coming in as late as I did, focusing on shooting a good score was really key – and I know this golf course. I’ve shot 60 around here before.
“So albeit that I had not played a practice round, I’ve got good memories on this golf course. I know the place, I like it and hopefully I can have a good weekend.
“”I got a decent amount of sleep Thursday night, which is always handy,” Poulter said. “I fell asleep at 7.45 and I wasn’t looking forward to what time I was going to wake up, but I managed to get through to 4am.”
Joint first round leader Lu Wei-chih briefly caught Rose with a hat-trick of birdies from the 17th before running up a double-bogey seven on the third and eventually signing for a 69 to finish alongside Poulter on seven under.
British Masters winner Fitzpatrick and fellow Englishman Matt Ford are among a five-strong group on six under, with another former US Open champion Graeme McDowell a shot further back.