RORY MCILROY saved the best until last to surge into contention for his first win since September 2016 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

McIlroy carded four birdies and an eagle from 25 feet on the 18th in a second round of 66 to reach nine-under-par, three shots behind Ryder Cup partner Thomas Pieters.

Leader Pieters had earlier holed out from a bunker on the ninth - his final hole - for one of his seven birdies in a bogey-free 65, with Spain’s Jorge Campillo his nearest challenger after going one better with a 64.

Defending champion Tommy Fleetwood sat two shots off the pace alongside Ross Fisher and Alexander Levy after celebrating his 27th birthday with a 68, while playing partner and world number one Dustin Johnson featured two strokes further back after a brilliant 64.

Playing his first event since calling an early end to his injury-plagued and winless season in October last year, McIlroy has yet to drop a single shot at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he has four second-place finishes, two thirds and a fifth in his last eight starts.

“I felt like I gave myself tons of chances on the back nine and it was sort of difficult to convert them,” McIlroy said.

“But I stayed patient and feel like I got what I deserved on the last for staying so patient and it was nice to finish with a three, leapfrog a few guys and get myself into contention for the weekend.

“It’s massive. Five shots to make up over the weekend is quite a lot, especially with a bunched leaderboard, so to cut that deficit to three, I feel so much closer to the lead.

Aberdeen’s Richie Ramsay sits on the fringes of the top 20 on a six-under 138 while Stephen Gallacher was the only other Scot to survive the cut on the four-under

David Drysdale, Scott Jamieson, Marc Warren, Paul Lawrie and Tom Buchanan all exited.