Rory McIlroy made his first competitive hole-in-one as a professional in the second round of the Abu Dhabi Championship.
The world No.1 threw his hands in the air and high-fived playing partner Rickie Fowler after his nine-iron from 177 yards at the par-three 15th landed a yard from the hole, hopped right and trickled into the cup.
“It never left the pin,” McIlroy said after ticking off one of the few things he’d yet to achieve in his golf career.
A six-under 66 – completed with a 15-foot birdie putt at No.18 – moved McIlroy into third place at 11 under, two shots behind Kaymer, to set up a potentially thrilling duel over the weekend between two players who won three of last year’s majors.
McIlroy will do well to dislodge Kaymer, though. The US Open champion followed up a first-round 64 with a 67 to give himself a great chance of a fourth title at the National Course – where he won in 2008, 2010 and 2011.
Kaymer, who maintained his one-stroke lead from overnight, is a strong front-runner – as shown by his wire-to-wire victories in last year’s US Open and in Abu Dhabi in 2008. He is even threatening to challenge his own record-low total in this tournament, set in 2011 when he shot a 24-under 264.
“It’s one of the only tournaments where you stand on the first tee and you pretty much know you have birdied every single hole,” said Kaymer, whose second-round highlight came on his 10th hole when he chipped in for birdie from a greenside bunker.
Separating Kaymer and McIlroy on the leaderboard is Thomas Pieters, the 22-year-old Belgian who is starting to fulfil his potential.
Pieters, seeking a first European Tour win, shot a 67 for 12 under.
Among the players to miss the cut – at two under – in the first tournament in the annual Desert Swing were defending champion Pablo Larrazabal, world No.2 Henrik Stenson and Italy’s Matteo Manassero. Fowler shot a 75 to drop to two under and just make the weekend.
McIlroy recalled making 10 holes-in-one, the last coming in a pro-am two years ago. His first came at the age of nine and was also a nine-iron, on that occasion from 106 yards at his home course in Holywood, Northern Ireland.
But one of the most thrilling feats in golf had evaded him in competitive professional play until he stepped up at No.15, slightly downbeat after missing very makeable birdie putts on the 13th and 14th holes.
He stayed in his pose as the ball drew in, kicked right on landing and took a couple of small bounces before dropping in.
“I didn’t need to get the putter out on that hole,” said McIlroy, who walked up to the cup, repaired his pitch mark and scooped the ball out to cheers from the crowd.
McIlroy was delighted with his ball-striking on a day that revived memories of his stunning year in 2014, when he won two majors and returned to world No.1. He has quickly shaken off the rust following time off over Christmas.