ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Craig Lee and Rafael Cabrera-Bello held the second-round lead in the $2.7 million Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, but the efforts of two potential European Ryder Cup team members overshadowed the co-leaders.
The two Thomases, Fleetwood and Bjorn, upstaged the respective Scotsman and Spaniard on Friday.
Fleetwood returned a 7-under 65 at Abu Dhabi Golf Club to climb into contention at 6 under, three shots behind Lee and Cabrero-Bello. Bjorn is only two strokes back after a 67. Fleetwood and Bjorn share a common bond aside from being in contention. They are doing their best not to think of Samuel Ryder’s little challenge match against the U.S. in September at Gleneagles, Scotland.
Bjorn is second on the Ryder Cup points list. The Dane can seriously improve his CV by making captain Paul McGinley’s team. Bjorn, who turns 43 next month, has made only two Ryder Cup appearances, in 1997 and 2002, although he has acted as vice captain for the past three contests.
“It would be stupid to say you don’t want to get in it (the European team), because I’m in a good position,” he said. “But I promised myself I will take this season in little spells. I’ll concentrate on these three weeks in the Middle East right now. That’s all I can do.
“I can’t get ahead of myself. I’m at an age where I know that things can sort of stop very quickly.
“The most important thing at the moment is to try and get myself in contention as many times as possible. If I keep doing that, then it will take care of itself.”
Fleetwood has come into the Ryder Cup equation after winning the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles last year and posting a third-place finish in the Volvo Golf Champions last week in Durban, South Africa. The Englishman, who turns 23 on Sunday, stands 16th on the points list.
Fleetwood will struggle to play in enough big-money events to make the team on merit, but European captain McGinley has identified him as one of seven or eight young players who will be in consideration for a captain’s pick.
Fleetwood played with McGinley during the first two rounds here, but playing in the Ryder Cup was not a topic of conversation.
“I’m lucky that I’ve got people around me like (coaches) Jim Payne and Jamie Spence who came very close in their day to getting in it (the Ryder Cup), and they can obviously pass on the information that when they had a chance it consumed them a little bit,” Fleetwood said.
“It’s every European Tour golfer’s dream to play in Ryder Cup. It’s the best sporting event in the world, but at the moment I’m really focusing on trying to get better, keep improving and hopefully it will come round at the end of the year. It’s one thing I’m trying to keep at the back of my mind.
“It’s a great opportunity. Having three (wild card) picks is going to be great for guys like me who are not in all the WGCs and majors. At the moment trying to climb into the world top 50 is a more appropriate target for me.”
Fleetwood has never been to a Ryder Cup as a spectator. His only experience is watching it from the comfort of an armchair. However, he’s used to team golf. He played a lot of it as an amateur, and even captained England on occasion. He was a member of the 2009 Walker Cup team, and played in last year’s Seve Trophy.
Whether he can make the jump to golf’s biggest team competition remains to be seen.
Lee, 35, and Cabrera-Bello, 29, are longshots to make the team, standing 24th and 35th, respectively, on the points list. Victory this week certainly would improve those prospects. Should either win – Lee is a nonwinner on tour, and Cabrera-Bello has won twice – he would join the two Toms in the Ryder Cup conversation.