Masterly McIlroy finds more momentum at Valhalla

Irishman posts a second round 67 to step up his bid for the PGA Championship

 Rory McIlroy  hits his tee shot on the 15th hole during the second round of the 96th PGA Championship at Valhalla GC in Louisville, Kentucky. Photo:  David Cannon/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy hits his tee shot on the 15th hole during the second round of the 96th PGA Championship at Valhalla GC in Louisville, Kentucky. Photo: David Cannon/Getty Images

Fri, Aug 8, 2014, 22:15

The symmetry was close to perfection. As Tiger Woods teed off from the first tee, his fellow Swoosh embroidered golfer was some 60 yards away prowling the ninth green as he lined up a 15-foot birdie putt.

For much of the day, Rory McIlroy had made this season’s two other Major champions, Bubba Watson and Martin Kaymer, the other two members of his group, appear like minor beings. Now, he had the chance to finish his second round in style.

And he did. Watson remained expressionless. Kaymer smiled. Further away, Woods and those other members of the marquee group of the second wave – Pádraig Harrington and Phil Mickelson – were left in little doubt of what had happened.

Having watched as Kaymer’s own birdie putt veered to the left, which left the German missing the cut, McIlroy coolly assessed his own line and read it perfectly, the right-to-left putt falling into the tin cup. The noise which greeted McIlroy’s 67th stroke of the day made its way back towards the first tee.

Birdie machine

On the green itself, McIlroy produced his trademark fist pump into the air as the ball disappeared. He is a birdie machine these days. That closing birdie – timed beautifully – made for quite the statistic. In McIlroy’s last ten competitive rounds of 2014, he is 41-under par – nine-under-par for the first two rounds here at the US PGA; 15-under-par in winning the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, and 17-under-par in winning the British Open.

On the eve of this championship, Darren Clarke had made the analogy that his fellow-Northern Irishman was, as he put it, “like a runaway train . . . . unstoppable!”

Maybe somewhere along the line, someone will manage to snag him. Up to now, however, McIlroy has performed with all the splendour of a Rolls Royce.

His driving, in particular, has been sublime. At one point of yesterday’s second round, he produced five successful drives – on the 16th, 17th, 18th, first and second – in excess of 300 yards. Watson was drawn into a war he couldn’t win.

And, as Kaymer, the US Open champion, admitted afterwards: “You just have to respect it a lot, how good he plays. There’s nothing wrong with his game. Putting. Chipping. Bunker, whatever it is. And he hits it 20, 25 yards longer than anyone else. He’s definitely the best player in the world.”

In all, McIlroy had an eagle, four birdies and two bogeys in manoeuvring his way towards the lead. It wasn’t entirely plain sailing. On the 12th, his three-wood off the tee found the left rough. “I had to turn it around the edge of an overhanging tree.” He found the front greenside bunker, where the sand had compacted. “It’s hard to slide your club underneath the ball, it was a tough up-and-down.” He didn’t make it, registering his first bogey.

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