Rory McIlroy lurking dangerously after marathon day at Firestone

The world number four sits three shots off the lead heading into the weekend in Akron

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland plays a shot on the 15th hole during the second round of the World Golf Championships - Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club South Course. Photo: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland plays a shot on the 15th hole during the second round of the World Golf Championships - Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club South Course. Photo: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

 

On a stop-start day at the Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Rory McIlroy battled to stay in contention and will fancy his chances going into the weekend after a round of 69 left him at four under and three behind the lead.

The start of play had been delayed due to a passing storm over Firestone Country Club and just over two hours’ play was possible before the threat of lightning caused another 45-minute delay.

Playing his first event since splitting from long-time caddie JP Fitzgerald, McIlroy had made the ideal start with a birdie on the second, but bogeyed the ninth following a wild drive to fall back to three under.

With best friend Harry Diamond on his bag, the four-time Major winner was looking to build on a first round 67 in which he continued his recovering good form on the greens, but again it was his wedge play which prevented him from going a few strokes lower on Friday.

Despite ideal drives, all of over 300 yards, at the first, third, fourth, sixth and eighth, he failed to muster any realistic birdie chances and had to settle for five pars, leading to a front nine of 35 which could have been a lot better.

Indeed, his only birdie of the front nine came after two big hits to the front of the green at the par five second and a tidy up-and-down.

Another stoppage in play while on the 10th hole proved to be the longest of the day with the players off the course for a number of hours. Indeed, by the time McIlroy and playing partners Jason Day and Jordan Spieth finished their second rounds it was almost 10 hours since they originally teed off.

It was a similar story on the back nine and, by the end of the round, he had hit drives of over 300 yards at every hole bar the par threes.

If only the approach play – particularly with the wedges – was as impressive.

Frustration proved the order of the back nine as McIlroy had to settle for mid-range birdie putts, many of which shaved the hole and stayed out. However, as he pointed to after the British Open at Birkdale, his putting looks much improved and, if the approach play can give some better opportunities of birdies at the weekend, he could well be lifting his second Bridgestone Invitational title.

His solitary birdie came at the par five 16th and didn’t even require the putter as he chipped in from over the back of the green to get to four under.

It was at that mark he would finish but remains well in contention on the tough Firestone layout.

McIlroy sits alongside Hideki Matsuyama and Zach Johnson in a tie for third with Thomas Pieters one shot better off and two behind leader Jimmy Walker who fired six birdies on his way to a round of 65.

One behind McIlroy lies playing partners Spieth and Day after contrasting rounds. Open champion Spieth had to show all of his battling qualities to finish with consecutive birdies for a level par 70 while Day threatened a course record at one stage.

Nursing a problematic back the Australian blitzed the front nine in just 30 strokes before stalling somewhat on the way in the eventually sign for a 66.

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