Rory McIlroy right in the mix for $15m Tour Championship bonanza

Mcilroy just a shot behind leader Brooks Koepka going into the weekend at East Lake

 Rory McIlroy  plays his second shot to the  18th hole during the second round of the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club  in Atlanta, Georgia. Photograph: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy plays his second shot to the 18th hole during the second round of the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, Georgia. Photograph: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

 

A birdie-birdie finish gave Rory McIlroy a pep in his step as he reached the halfway stage of the megabucks Tour Championship just a stroke adrift of leader Brooks Koepka and with his sights very much set on the $15 million payday that awaits the eventual winner who also doubles up as the FedEx Cup champion.

In a round interrupted by a weather front which contained thunder and lightning to force a delay of 90 minutes, the 30-year-old Northern Irishman shot a second round 67 – four birdies and a lone bogey, which came at the opening hole – to lie alongside Justin Thomas in second place on 12 under par.

McIlroy’s round started with a bogey when he missed the green left and failed to get up-and-down from the rough but he got back to level on his round with a birdie on the Par 5 sixth hole where he reached a greenside bunker in two and splashed out to two feet and sank the putt.

Having turned in level-par 35, McIlroy dipped under par with a birdie on the 12th but reserved his best for the back nine after the weather delay. “It did help me. It can go one of two ways. I was sort of in neutral [when the siren sounded], it gave me a chance to reset. It worked well for me, and I played better golf after the delay,” said McIlroy.

His finishing brace of birdies ensured a place a shot behind Koepka. On the 17th, McIlroy’s approach from 158 yards finished 15 feet from the cup and he rolled in the birdie putt; then, on the 18th, after pushing his tee shot right into pine straws, where he was blocked out by a tree trunk, he audaciously opted to play a fairway wood and smashed the drive towards the green, the ball finishing on a grassy island between the bunkers from where he chipped to two feet and finished with a birdie.

Of that approach, he admitted: “ I got away with it, I rode my luck and took advantage of it . . . I have played well the first two days. I know it is in there, I am playing well and I just need to keep doing it over the next two days.”

McIlroy’s late birdie blitz enabled him to stay very much in contention for the record payday, although world number one Koepka – who had a hat-trick of birdies on the front nine, from the sixth, to leap up the leaderboard – would ultimately claim the halfway lead with a closing birdie after reaching the Par 5 in two. He failed to make his six footer for eagle but tapped in for birdie to claim the outright lead.

“It was all about separating the men from the boys and it did, the margins are so small here and we are playing for a lot and you have to push it,” said Paul Casey of the conditions which saw five players within four shots of the lead at the midpoint.

The biggest move of the second round was made by Chez Reavie, who shot a 64 that included a hole in one on the ninth, the first ace on that Par 3 in the tournament’s history at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta. In moving to six under, Reavie admitted there was an element of luck in his ace: “Honestly I was hitting a three-iron in the middle of the green. I just overdrew it a little bit, got a fortunate bounce, kicked a little right and I got lucky, it went in the hole.”

LEADERBOARD

USA unless stated, par 70, to par scores include starting score

-13 Brooks Koepka 67 67

-12 Justin Thomas 70 74, Rory McIlroy (N Irl) 66 67

-11 Xander Schauffele 64 69

-9 Paul Casey (Eng) 66 67

-7 Patrick Cantlay 70 71

-6 Chez Reavie 71 64, Patrick Reed 70 70, Matt Kuchar 66 72

-5 Adam Scott (Aus) 68 70

-4 Tony Finau 70 69, Jon Rahm (Esp) 68 72

-3 Abraham Ancer (Mex) 72 69, Sungjae Im (Kor) 67 71

-2 Jason Kokrak 71 67, Tommy Fleetwood (Eng) 69 70, Corey Conners (Can) 68 71, Gary Woodland 68 73, Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn) 66 75

-1 Kevin Kisner 71 70, Bryson DeChambeau 68 71 E Webb Simpson 74 70, Rickie Fowler 71 71, Justin Rose (Eng) 68 74 +1 Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa) 70 71, Charles Howell III 68 73 +2 Dustin Johnson 73 72 +3 Brandt Snedeker 73 72, Marc Leishman (Aus) 71 73 +8 Lucas Glover 73 75

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