Impressive McIlroy ramps up his challenge in convincing fashion

Irish man posts a second round 67 to set the clubhouse target at Valhalla

Rory McIlroy reacts to a birdie on the 13th green during the second round of the PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky. Photograph: Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy reacts to a birdie on the 13th green during the second round of the PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky. Photograph: Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Sat, Aug 9, 2014, 01:00

No let-up, no stopping. With each stride and each twirl of the club in self-admiration of another beautifully executed stroke, Rory McIlroy – who yesterday followed up an opening 66 with a second round 67 to reach the midpoint of this 96th staging of the US PGA here at Valhalla Golf Club on 133, nine-under-par – is venturing into the sort of golfing territory previously occupied only by the greats of the game.

Former world number one Tiger Woods dropped four shots in his first seven holes before carding a three-over-par 74 to make an early exit.

On a day which started with miserable, persistent rain – of which Shane Lowry could justifiably feel he experienced the short straw, being in the very first group forced to go forth in poor visibility on to sodden fairways and waterlogged greens – it was the world number one McIlroy, as he has almost routinely done of late, who found the capacity to marry a strong mental fortitude with an ability to craft the shots necessary to contend in his bid for back-to-back Major titles.

And, as he heads into the weekend intent on adding the Wanamaker Trophy to the Claret Jug he won in wire-to-wire fashion at Hoylake last month, McIlroy promised there would be no conservatism to his play.

“I’ve went into protection mode once in my career,” he said, referring to the final round of the US Masters in 2011.

“That didn’t work out very well, so I said to myself, ‘I will never do that again’. I don’t think you can protect a lead, you just go out and play, to play your game and not think about the score.” Indeed, that final round experience at Augusta National three years ago has become a defining moment in McIlroy’s evolution. The meltdown has been recycled into a positive. “I think I’ve had to learn to be a good frontrunner. I wasn’t comfortable in that position at the start of my career, in 2009, 2010 and especially 2011, at the Masters . . . . it’s taken me a couple of years to grow into (being) comfortable. My mindset has stayed the same since that day at Augusta . . . . I’m just going to keep the pedal down and get as many ahead as possible.”

McIlroy’s philosophy is one that has enabled him to shift up the gears this season, a year when he has also coped – remarkably well, it must be said – with his breakup with fiancée Caroline Wozniacki.

In the aftermath of that parting of the ways, McIlroy immediately won the BMW PGA Championship, the European tour’s flagship tournament.

It was a portent of things to come, and in recent weeks has won the British Open and followed up with the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

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