Rory McIlroy makes light of illness and layoff to move into lead

World number one ranking back in his sights as he holds halfway lead in Mexico

Rory McIlroy in action during the Mexico Championship at Chapultepec Golf Club in Mexico City. Photograph: PA

Rory McIlroy in action during the Mexico Championship at Chapultepec Golf Club in Mexico City. Photograph: PA

 

The prospect of Rory McIlroy being restored as the top ranked golfer in the world by Monday morning is suddenly a live one.

A stunning performance from the Northern Irishman in recording 65 on the outskirts of Mexico City on Friday assured him of a two-stroke lead at the first WGC event of 2017. This, indeed, was done with McIlroy still feeling the effects of the food poisoning which had first surfaced in the early hours of Thursday morning.

For the first time on this side of the Atlantic since the 2014 US PGA Championship, which McIlroy was to win at Valhalla, the 27-year-old is the man to catch after 36 holes.

Stomach upset aside, he is also producing this form in what marks his first start in seven weeks because of injury. He looks wonderfully at ease with all around him, just as there is no indication whatever of lingering rib pain.

This was vintage McIlroy in spells. After he reached the turn in 31, a surprise error came at the 12th when he could not get up-and-down from a greenside bunker. A stunning response ensued. McIlroy made a two at the par-three next before holing his 152-yard approach shot at the 14th for an eagle.

After producing a birdie at the 15th, McIlroy was three clear, a status reduced only because of missed putts from inside 4ft on the last two holes.

Ross Fisher, Phil Mickelson and Justin Thomas are those closest to McIlroy’s nine-under aggregate. Fisher held the lead outright at one stage on day two but stumbled just as McIlroy pressed on his accelerator. Having played a five-hole stretch in three under par around the turn, Fisher was one over for his closing eight.

A distinctly European flavour to the leaderboard is enhanced by Tyrrell Hatton, who is five under par and alongside Thomas Pieters. Andy Sullivan is a shot better off while Martin Kaymer, Matt Fitzpatrick, Joost Luiten and Lee Westwood are in strong positions for the weekend.

The theme of dodgy stomachs extended to caddies, with Mickelson’s long-time bag man, Jim “Bones” Mackay, lasting only four holes before succumbing to serious discomfort. Mickelson’s younger brother, Tim, assumed caddie duties from thereon and did a fine job; the five-times major champion posted a 68 to move to seven under par.

“I was having breakfast and Phil called and said just be around if something happens,” Tim Mickelson said.

“It was fun. It was the first time we were able to do that and it was fun. Trust me, I don’t want Bones’ job, though. I have a whole new respect for those guys. Every hole seems uphill.”

Mickelson Sr has aspirations of what would be a second World Golf Championship success. “Bones is irreplaceable,” he said. “He is one of the best in the business. But he’s hurting, he just hasn’t been feeling well.

“On the positive side, I had a lot of fun with my brother. He’s so fun to be around and he did a great job today.”

Sullivan’s day was kick-started by holing from the 9th fairway for an eagle. The Englishman’s 65 moved him to six under par. “I’ve been hitting the ball well all year, just not been putting that great,” said the European Ryder Cup player. “To see a few putts dropping in today, especially on the sloped greens as they are, it gives me a lot of confidence going forward.

“I think the guy that keeps it under the hole the most and obviously hits it quite close is going to be the guy that wins this week. A lot of times on the first day we hit it sort of pin high and thought we hit a good shot in and we’d actually got six or seven feet of swing on a putt and you’re just not holing many of them.”

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