Rory McIlroy fights his way back into Irish Open mix with 67

England’s Dale Whitnell sets the pace at Mount Juliet with a second consecutive 67

Rory McIlroy tees off on the 17th hole during the second round of the Irish Open at Mount Juliet. Photo: Peter Fitzpatrick/Inpho

Rory McIlroy tees off on the 17th hole during the second round of the Irish Open at Mount Juliet. Photo: Peter Fitzpatrick/Inpho

 

From being stuck in neutral in the first round, Rory McIlroy slipped into gear in the second round of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open - firing a bogey-free 67 to reach the midpoint on five-under-par 139 - and set to move on into the weekend knowing that there is yet further room for improvement.

England’s Dale Whitnell, ranked 333rd in the world and who earned his place off the reserve list, made the most of his late call-up to compile a second round 67 to take the clubhouse lead on 134, 10-under, and allowed himself a little congratulatory fist into the air after holing out from eight feet for a par save on the 18th.

For McIlroy, an improved round with the putter in hand - attributed to better, morning greens - resulted in six birdies - on the 10th, 12th, 15th and 17th to turn in 32 and then just another one at the first - as he made upward progression that in fact could have been even better, as he failed to birdie either of the Par 5s on the homeward stretch.

Dale Whitnell putts out on the 18th green. Photo: Warren Little/Getty Images
Dale Whitnell putts out on the 18th green. Photo: Warren Little/Getty Images

“I will take it, it was definitely a big improvement . . . . to play those Par 5s on the front nine was disappointing. I thought if I had of got to seven (under) it would have been a good effort and that was sort of my goal over those last few holes. It didn’t quite happen,” said McIlroy.

He added: “I need to go out and play as well or a bit better tomorrow to give myself a real chance, to at least get into double digits under par and give myself a chance. There’s a bit of weather coming in as well so we will see how that goes. I don’t think I’m right back into contention but I am pretty close.”

McIlroy got into momentum from the get-go and appeared set to make a real move, only to stall on the homeward journey and especially on the Par 5 fifth (his 14th) where he found the green in two. Faced with a downhill 50 footer for eagle, though, he left the first putt five feet short and then missed the birdie attempt.

Having ranked 130th in putting in the first round, at least McIlroy appeared more at home generally on the greens and had moved into the top-25 after finishing his round.

Fleetwood and McIlroy compare drivers on the 10th tee. Photo: Patrick Bolger/Getty Images
Fleetwood and McIlroy compare drivers on the 10th tee. Photo: Patrick Bolger/Getty Images

Graeme McDowell, too, rediscovered some of this old mojo. The Northern Irishman had been wondering what he’d be doing in the coming days to fill in time after an opening round 74 but rescued matters and ensured his progression into the weekend with a second round 67 that contained five birdies and not a single dropped shot. McDowell reached the midway stage on three-under 141.

Whitnell, a professional since 2009 but still seeking a breakthrough win on tour, moved into the clubhouse lead a shot clear of South African Christiaan Bezuidenhout and recent British Masters champion Richard Bland.

Early completed scores from round two (Par 72, Irish unless stated)

-10 Dale Whitnell (Eng) 67 67

-9 Christiaan Bezuidenhout (RSA) 67 68, Richard Bland (Eng) 69 66

-8 Marcus Armitage (Eng) 68 68, Jason Scrivener (Aus) 67 69, Min Woo Lee (S Kor) 68 68, Julien Guerrier (Fra) 68 68, Richie Ramsay (Sco) 67 69

-7 John Catlin (USA) 69 68, Steven Brown (Eng) 68 69, Andrew Johnston (Eng) 67 70

-6 Aaron Cockerill (Can) 68 70, Jeff Winther (Den) 70 68, Maximilian Kieffer (Ger) 71 67, Alexander Björk (Swe) 72 66, David Howell (Eng) 71 67

-5 Rory McIlroy 72 67, Tommy Fleetwood (Eng) 67 70, Thomas Pieters (Bel) 70 69, Chris Paisley (Eng) 68 71, Gaganjeet Bhullar (Ind) 71 68

Early completed Irish scores

-5 Rory McIlroy 72 67

-3 Graeme McDowell 74 67

-2 Colm Moriarty 68 74

-1 Niall Kearney 71 72

+5 Rowan Lester 73 76

+12 Caolan Rafferty (a) 78 78

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