HONG KONG :Justin Rose tightened his grip on the Hong Kong Open Friday as he moved to the top of the leaderboard — but he singled out compatriot Ian Poulter as a key rival standing between him and the trophy.
World number seven Rose, whose last visit to Fanling in 2011 saw him turfed out early after missing the cut, shot a four under par round of 66 to go nine under on the second day.
Poulter climbed to joint third position after hitting 66, going seven under par at the halfway point of the tournament.
His precipitous descent to number 51 in the world rankings saw him make a last minute dash to Hong Kong in a bid to save his European Tour membership and his Ryder Cup chances.
Taiwan s Lu Wei-chih, who underwent brain surgery in 2012, who was on seven under and Denmark s Lucas Bjerregaard, the world number 285, on eight under, completed the top four.
But American Dustin Johnson missed the cut after a poor day on the course, which saw him chalk up a two over par round of 72, including a double bogey on the sixth that left him hacking around in the rough.
The world number eight finished the day at one over after two rounds.
Poulter, who said he was suffering from jetlag, insisted he was not just there to make up the numbers.
“I don t play to take part — obviously I play to win,” the former Hong Kong Open champion said.
There is added drama for the 39-year-old since he must finish on top to qualify for the coveted WGC-HSBC Champions event in Shanghai next month.
He has been in the tournament, known as “Asia s major”, every year since it started in 2005.
Poulter added he was looking forward to the chance of playing with his friend Rose this weekend.
“Any time you get to play with a mate, and obviously a good one like Justin, is always quite nice,” he said.
Rose s consistency over the first two days saw him play just one bogey, on the penultimate hole Friday, before finishing on a birdie.
He said he was happy with his performance despite struggling with a sore left hip as temperatures topped 30 Celsius (86 Fahrenheit).
He called Poulter a “tough to beat” opponent.
“Poulter is a past champion 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.”
India s Anirban Lahiri, ranked 39 in the world and top of the Asian Tour Order of Merit, played a solid round of 67 to finish on six under after two rounds — but said he could have done even better.
Matthew Fitzpatrick, aged 21, from England, tipped by Rose ahead of the tournament as a young player to watch, also finished day two on six under after shooting a round of 67.
Big-hitting but laid-back Johnson shrugged off a poor performance which saw him ejected early.
“I didn t drive it very good, I didn t hit irons very good, I didn t do anything very good!,” he confessed.
Two former champions, Australia s Scott Hend and Miguel Angel Jimenez from Spain, also failed to make the cut after shooting rounds of four and three over respectively.