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Woods back to his best in Abu Dhabi

Tiger Woods plays his third shot at the par 5, 18th hole during the second round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club on Friday in Abu Dhabi. (GETTY)

By Reuters

Golf fans poured through the gates on the Abu Dhabi sabbath on Friday to get a glimpse of the world's top-ranked player, the former number one and the pretender to the throne and the galleries were not disappointed.

Tiger Woods produced the sort of assured performance that helped him compile a record 623 weeks at the top of the rankings, returning a second-round 69 to move within two strokes of the lead at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship.

Third-ranked Rory McIlroy (72) gave a spectacularly erratic show that was good and bad in almost equal measure while an unusually unsteady Luke Donald (72), world number one and the other member of the three-ball, spent almost as much time in desert sand as he did on grass.

The trio were followed by one of the biggest galleries to assemble at a tournament in the Middle East.

Woods said he enjoyed the occasion and playing with the two Britons, even though the toughness of the par-72 layout meant it was impossible for the trio to share too much banter as they plotted their way round.

"I had a good time out there but we were all focusing on our game quite hard," the 36-year-old American told Sky Sports after finishing on five-under 139, two behind leader Thorbjorn Olesen of Denmark.

"We had a few conversations here and there but all in all it was pretty quiet between us," added the 25th-ranked Woods.

"This course is playing difficult enough, it's not a nine-birdie golf course so you can't laugh and joke your way round. We had our heads down and the blinkers on."

If Friday was anything to go by, Woods is back to his best and once again gunning for golfing glory.

Beset by injuries and personal problems in the last two years, the 14-times Major champion hinted he was getting his 'A game' back together by winning the Chevron World Challenge last month.

That victory in California came in a minor event against a lesser field but this week's tournament is laden with world-class talent, the lineup resembling a major championship more than a regular European Tour event.

"I thought I played well today," said Woods. "I made a couple of putts here and there but it was tough out there.

"The greens are a little bit quicker, a little bit dryer and the rough seems to be getting deeper and more lush so it certainly puts a premium on driving the ball in the fairway."

For the second day running Woods gave a controlled display from tee to green and when the birdie chances came he grabbed them, holing out especially well from six to eight feet.

McIlroy, expected to reach the summit of the rankings sooner rather than later, finished on the same 139 total as Woods but was up and down like a violinist's elbow.

He mixed six birdies with two bogeys and a pair of double bogeys, the most notable coming at the ninth where he committed a rules breach by using his hand to sweep sand away on the fringe of the green.

McIlroy put his mistake down to a lack of knowledge and a loss of concentration.

"Luke said, 'I don't think you can do that,' and then I was like, 'Oh no, I can't, can I?', and it turned a four into a six," explained the 22-year-old Northern Irishman after incurring a two-shot penalty.

McIlroy said he was impressed with Woods's performance over the opening 36 holes.

"He has definitely got the ball under control, seems comfortable and of course he's only had two bogeys in two days," said the U.S. Open champion.

"He's not making many mistakes, he's very consistent and his ball flight is good. I'm looking forward to battling against him at the weekend."

Donald struggled all day with his driver and could only manage a 72 for 143, one under.