Golf: Italian Laporta surges to Abu Dhabi lead as Koepka struggles

(Reuters) - A birdie blitz on the back nine helped Italian Francesco Laporta card a superb nine-under 63 on Friday to take a one-shot lead in the Abu Dhabi Championship, while world number one Brooks Koepka slid down the leaderboard after a disappointing second round.

Laporta, who fired a 71 in the first round, roared back into contention for his maiden European Tour title with gains on the last five holes after managing four in the opening 11 at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

“I gave myself a lot of opportunity for birdies and so when I had the opportunities, I took it. Every time I was putting for birdie, I made it. It was a great day,” Laporta, who went 10-under for the tournament heading into the weekend, said.

“I played solid all 18 holes, my putting was solid, my driver, my irons.

“I’m feeling good... I didn’t start the season good. I missed the cut in South Africa two times and this is the third event and I’m leading, so I just want to enjoy the weekend.”

The 29-year-old is one shot ahead of Spain’s Rafa Cabrera Bello, who shot 68, and England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick who signed off with a bogey-free 67.

Italian Renato Paratore was one shot behind in joint fourth alongside Sergio Garcia and Li Haotong while fellow overnight leader Shaun Norris made the cut despite a poor 77 that included seven bogeys.

Four-times major champion Koepka, back playing following a knee injury sustained in October, dropped to joint 35th after a poor round of 75 while British Open champion Shane Lowry missed the cut with a 74.

Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Toby Davis