Rory McIlroy just two behind leaders Rafa Cabrera-Bello and Craig Lee in Abu Dhabi
Rafael Cabrera-Bello and Craig Lee share the lead at the Abu Dhabi Championship, but Rory McIlroy is just two back.
Last Updated: 17/01/14 4:42pm
Cabrera-Bello (68) looked poised to be sat on his own at the top of the leaderboard until a bogey at his final hole on Friday saw him drop back alongside Lee (67) at nine-under-par.
The duo are one stroke clear of Yorkshireman Danny Willett who produced the round of the day with a stunning 63 - just one outside Henrik Stenson's 2006 course record.
Willett's flawless effort contained seven birdies and an eagle at the par-five eighth hole and saw him charge through the field after an opening 73.
Just a further stroke back is McIlroy who is joined at seven-under by Thomas Bjorn and Ricardo Gonzalez, while Joost Luiten, George Coetzee and Tommy Fleetwood are locked together at six-under.
After a birdie at his first hole, McIlroy's challenge took a real blow as a wayward drive at the tough par-four sixth hole saw him card a costly double-bogey.
But he regrouped with a birdie at eight and then produced a simply superb back-nine of just 31 strokes to fire himself back into contention.
A superb approach at ten got him moving and, after tapping home, he followed up by stroking home from 20 feet to pick up another shot at 13.
With his ball buried in thick rough at 14, he somehow managed to gouge out his approach which hit the flag and finished stone dead, allowing him to make further progress.
He took advantage of another fine approach at 17, before two superb strikes set up a two-putt birdie at 18 - his eagle attempt just grazing the hole.
A delighted McIlroy told Sky Sports afterwards: "Really, really happy. I got off to a slowish start - I was one-under through five, but then hit a bad tee-shot on six and made double-bogey there, but I did well to get back to even-par for the round after the ninth.
"I gave myself a target of four-under on the back-nine, if I did that I'd be right there for the weekend and managed to go one better.
"I've been okay out of the rough this week, I haven't found it as difficult as others. I'm driving the ball really well and if you get it up there within 130, 140 yards of the green you've always got a chance to get it somewhere around the hole.
"I'm shaping the ball both ways at the minute and obviously driving it particularly well which really helps.
"It's a great position to be in, only two or three off the lead. [I'm] excited, in contention, it's a great way to start the season, being in the mix going into the last 36 holes."
England's Matthew Baldwin and Romain Wattel of France, who shared the overnight lead with Cabrera-Bello, both lost ground on Friday as they posted rounds of 73 and 75 respectively.
Phil Mickelson (one-under) and Sergio Garcia (level) both did just enough to get through to the weekend, but the likes of Padraig Harrington, Stenson and 2012 champion Robert Rock all failed to make the cut.