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UBS Hong Kong Open 2016

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UBS Hong Kong Open

Metronomic Rafa Cabrera Bello takes three-shot lead going into weekend at Hong Kong Open

Spaniard hasn’t missed a cut all year but looking for first win since 2012 as he posts 11-under target

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 December, 2016, 1:33pm
UPDATED : Friday, 09 December, 2016, 9:49pm

Rafa Cabrera Bello hasn’t missed a cut all year, and that certainly wasn’t going to change at the UBS Hong Kong Open on Friday.

The Spaniard also hasn’t won since 2012 – and that certainly might change come Sunday after he headed into the weekend with a three-shot lead after shooting a 65 of metronomic precision for an 11-under total.

After an opening 64, Cabrera Bello had four birdies on Friday’s card before his first bogey in 31 holes; he duly shrugged it off to notch another couple of birdies coming in.

Journeyman Sam Brazel is closest, on -8, with Masters champion Danny Willett, Paul Peterson of the US, England’s Tommy Fleetwood and South Africa’s Justin Walters on -6. Such is the consistency Cabrera Bello has shown, it’s hard to imagine him giving the chasers many opportunities to catch up.

Invincible? “Not necessarily,” he insisted. “I don’t think about [the long run of cuts made]. I only think about it when I read a Tweet off you guys or someone mentions it.

“I’m just trying to play my best. It just proves that I’ve turned into a better player, more consistent, and there’s always some part of my game that can help me make the cut.

“But this week, it’s more than that. I’m leading and I’ve been playing solid, playing very smart around the course, and really pleased to be in the last tournament of the year for me in this position coming into the weekend.”

A glimmer of hope for the men behind is that nagging fact that despite his consistency Cabrera Bello hasn’t closed a tournament out for the win since the Dubai Desert Classic in February 2012.

WATCH: Roundup of Day Two at the 2016 UBS Hong Kong Open 

“[I’m] as determined [to win] as I was last tournament I played and the previous one,” he said. “I know I will win again. I’ve won before. I just need to keep giving myself chances. I have been working on some mistakes that maybe I have done on other occasions.

“I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong not to get the win, so it will happen. Hopefully it will happen in two days’ time.”

Willett has been struggling somewhat since his landmark Masters win in April, but five birdies on his back nine helped him to a four-under 66, his lowest score on the European Tour since September.

“It’s nice to be in this position after the last few months,” said Willett, who has been struggling with a back problem.

“We obviously took a couple of weeks off because of the back and stuff and rested it well. Actually took some proper time off, which I’ve not been able to do for a while. That was really nice.

“The scoring around this place never gets too daft, just purely because of the nature of it. A few really tricky holes out there, and even though there’s not that much wind there, there’s a little bit flicking around and it bounces around in the trees.”

Defending champion Justin Rose has also been hampered by a back injury, and organisers and fans will be relieved to see him make it into the weekend, -1 for his two rounds. He had three birdies on his back nine, almost hitting a hole in one, but two bogies pegged him back.

“I’ve got to wait for my run. I feel like I’m capable of some mid- to low-60s back-to-back around here,” said the Englishman.

“I’m going to be there or thereabouts, but it’s going to require a couple of low ones now.”

The cynics might have suggested Rose wouldn’t have been too fussed had he missed the cut, struggling as he is to bend over and assured of a hefty appearance fee. Nothing could be further from the truth, he insisted.

“No, not when you’ve travelled 8,000 miles especially, and the physio here is doing a great job on me, as well,” he added. “So I’m feeling better every day. From that point of view, this is good, active rehab, playing. Obviously this is my job, so the more I can get comfortable doing it, the better. Each day for me, I think I’m getting closer to being 100 per cent.”

Former champion Ian Poulter almost missed the cut after a spectacular meltdown on the 15th hole, when he took a quadruple-bogey 8 then fumed at a cameraman he felt had distracted him. A bogey on the last didn’t help either as he signed for a 72 to sit on level par.

Another big name, American Patrick Reed, was in the same group and also had a day to forget, shooting his second 70 for a level total.