Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, reacts after his chip to the fourth green during the second round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at Valhalla Golf Club on Friday, Aug. 8, 2014, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/John Locher)
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - A bit scrappy at times, he said.
And yes, Rory McIlroy’s Friday at the PGA Championship was a lot more paint-by-numbers than it was Picasso.
But though there’s plenty of room elsewhere for a story, there’s none on the scorecard, which showed a 67 to follow his first-round 66, and a one-shot lead for the Northern Irishman halfway home to his second consecutive major crown.
The other numbers?
Well, he’s opened with two rounds of 67 or better twice before in majors, and won both times.
And those Freaky Fridays he was having earlier this year, the ones he admitted were starting to get into his head? Forget ‘em. Since shooting 78 in the second round of the Scottish Open in early July, here’s what he’s done: 68, 67, 66, 66, 68, 71, 69, 64, 66, 66, 66 and 67.
He might have a future in this game.
McIlroy, who started the day a stroke behind co-leaders Lee Westwood, Ryan Palmer and Kevin Chappell, posted his nine-under-par 133 total early and then let the challengers shoot at it.
A veritable army of them tried.
Jim Furyk, Jason Day and Westwood got closest, at eight-under, and others, like Palmer and Rickie Fowler and even Steve Stricker took their shot. But only Day, who had Friday’s best round --- a 65 that included five birdies and an eagle -- could stay up in the rarefied air that Rory seems to be breathing these days.
The day began with a deluge and a delay, and endured more or less steady drizzle, gusting to hard rain, throughout, but Valhalla Golf Club’s upgraded drainage and SubAir suction systems let them keep playing, and the soft greens allowed some good scoring.
“Conditions were a little tougher than yesterday and especially our front nine because the rain was coming down pretty heavily at times,” said McIlroy, who didn’t drive it all that well (for a change), and yet, he still has hit 20 of 28 fairways through two rounds, and he’s had just 27 putts per round.
“Obviously there were times when it was pretty scrappy, and you just have to get it up-and-down and keep the momentum going in a round,” said the 25-year-old wunderkind.
“One thing I did out there today was try to sort of clip everything off the top of the turf, because if you get a little steep in these conditions, you can fat it and cover yourself with mud.”
So yes, he just changed his swing a little.
Tiger Woods, who would have needed to shoot 69 to make the cut, never really had a chance. He missed a multitude of shots, several putts of the type he used to make with his eyes closed, and was erratic off the tee en route to another 74. He occasionally flexed a leg or flinched after full swings, indicating his back problems are ongoing. He may have played his last golf of the season.
McIlroy, though, looked as though he’d just played a hit-and-giggle round with the lads at the home club. The soggy conditions were unpleasant for everybody, but not fatal. The PGA of America decided not to play lift, clean and place, and it turned out to be the right call.
“We were questioning in the fairway why we had to hit to a puddle because I was already underwater,” said Palmer, among the early starters who had to wait out on the course for resumption of play. “We were questioning why we have to hit a second shot into a green that’s already half in standing water. They said that’s just golf. We’re like, tell the guy indoors who’s making the decision to come check it out.”
“I think on the PGA Tour we’d have played the ball up,” said the 47-year-old Stricker, who had it to six-under at one point, but ended at five, in a group that included Canada’s Graham DeLaet. Both shot 68.
“I heard while we were waiting that no major has ever played the ball up,” Stricker said. “So that kind of makes their decision easy and there’s no sense getting bent out of shape about it. So you just put your head down and plow forward.”
And so they did, including Phil Mickelson, who made a late charge to life himself out of the general mediocrity of the Woods-Padraig Harrington group and finish tied for sixth after shooting 67.
Day, who has been dogged by a persistent thumb injury, made birdies at the 17th and 18th holes to get into the final pairing with McIlroy on Saturday.
At least a dozen players are still firmly in the mix … as long as McIlroy doesn’t continue to go low. He says he won’t sit back.
“I think I’ve had to learn to be a good frontrunner,” he said. “Especially 2011, at the Masters, I was four ahead and wasn’t quite comfortable in that position.
“Look, I’ve gone protection mode once in my career, and it was the 2011 Masters, and that didn’t work out very well. So I said to myself, I’ll never do that again.”
Fowler, who’s finished top-5 in all three majors this year, sees no reason he can’t challenge McIlroy, as he did at Royal Liverpool.
“Rory is obviously on top of his game right now. He’s driving the ball great and when he does that it kind of alleviates any stress from anywhere else, and he’s able to go full-throttle and not really let up,” he said.
“So we’ll see if he and I can go out and put out some good rounds tomorrow. Maybe we can be in the final group on Sunday. The Open definitely wasn’t the last final group of a major that he and I will be a part of.”
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