Grant Forrest reached the half-way stage in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship sitting ahead of both Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson – and admitted he found it “surreal” to be rubbing shoulders with the American stars on his Rolex Series debut.
Taking the biggest test so far in his European Tour rookie season in his stride, the 25-year-old from North Berwick carded a seven-under-par 65 – the joint-best score of the day – in the second round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club to catapult himself into the top 10.
Forrest was on fire as he reeled off five birdies in a row around the turn before adding two more in a bogey-free effort that moved him to eight-under, a shot behind compatriot Scott Jamieson in the $7million event in the UAE.
“I’m happy with how I played and to get a 65 round here is a dream, really,” admitted Forrest, one of four Scots to graduate to the main tour from the Challenge Tour last season.
“I didn’t play my best stuff yesterday, but ground it out and managed to get round in under par. Going out today my aim was to keep giving myself chances and I certainly did that, missing just one green and hitting a lot of shots within 15 feet.”
The par-3 15th was that only missed green, but he made amends for that in style by holing from out of a bunker for his final birdie of the day.
“I just got on a good run around the turn,” added Forrest, who also carded a 65 when finishing in the top ten in Mauritius in his second event of the new campaign.
“When the momentum is on your side, things like holing a bunker shot tend to happen and that was definitely a bonus.”
Forrest sits a shot ahead of world No.2 Koepka and four in front of third-ranked Johnson after wasting no time showing that he has the game to compete in these big events.
“There’s no doubt it is a step up, particularly weeks like this when it’s a really strong field,” he admitted. “You realise how many top players there are out here. There will be other weeks when there are smaller events and, to be honest, they are your chance to try and win.
“The other day, just before the pro-am, I was hitting balls on the range and DJ was two bays to the left and Koepka was two bays to the right. You have to pinch yourself. It is a bit surreal seeing players that around you, but once you get out on the golf course it’s about focusing on yourself.
“It is inspiring for me playing in the same events as these players. It makes you realise how far you have come. They are obviously another level up and that’s what you are aspiring to get to. It’s good to get in amongst it here and soaking up the atmosphere.”
Forrest heads into the final 36 holes just four shots behind the leader, Irishman Shane Lowry, but, though pleased how he’s playing and, in particular, how he’s driving the ball, the Craigielaw player is not getting carried away.
“Just keep it going,” he replied to being asked about his goal for the rest of the event. “I’ve not thought about a finish yet. There’s time for that!”
Capital-based Richie Ramsay also started 2019 by making the cut, sitting on four-under, a shot ahead of Bob MacIntyre, another of the Scottish newcomers this season, but Stephen Gallacher and David Drysdale both made early exits.