Four holes into his second round of the megabucks Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in the suburbs of Atlanta, Rory McIlroy – competing in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup season’s finale – couldn’t do right from wrong.
No matter what he tried to execute in those holes early on only led to frustration, as two bogeys inside those four holes had him moving ever further adrift of the pace set by Patrick Cantlay, the American with eyes on the $15 million jackpot that will be awarded to whoever should finish top of the leader board come Sunday evening.
Yet, as McIlroy is prone to do, he hung tough and turned things around: an erratic front nine of 36 strokes was followed by a homeward run of just 30, as the Northern Irishman signed for a 66 to reach the midway point on 134 (eight-under, with the handicap two-under start he received in the staggered starting positions) and move to the fringes of contention. Not quite a challenger, but not cast adrift either.
‘A really good effort’
“I got off to a poor start and then once I got it going there on the back nine and just kept hitting good iron shots pretty close and converting a few of them. And then I finished with a flourish. I birdied those last three holes and played those really well.
“I thought the pins today were pretty tricky because all of them were, even if you hit the ball close – I hit a few wedge shots to like four, five feet – and you still had big breaking putts or if you’re on the wrong side of the hole, it’s still tricky. But to be two-over through four and play the last 14 in six-under was a really good effort to at least just keep myself in the tournament,” said McIlroy.
McIlroy got off to a poor start– three-putting the first and then failing to get up and down from a greenside bunker on the fourth to suffer bogeys – but got his round up-and-running with his first birdie on the fifth, where he rolled in a 12-footer and proceeded to reel off four straight pars to turn in 36.
Well removed from the main action at that point, McIlroy got hot on the homeward run with a string of birdies: on the 10th, he hit a 329 yards drive down the left side and hit a lob wedge approach to 10 feet for birdie; then, on the Par 3 11th, his tee shot finished four feet from the hole and he sank the putt.
Another birdie putt on the 12th, from 10 feet, failed to drop but the putter served him well on the 13th where he claimed the fourth birdie of his round from six feet before a wayward drive into rough down the right on the 14th led to a dropped shot.
That bogey, rather than seeing his head drop, acted to spur him on: McIlroy reeled off three birdies to finish his round, from four feet on the 16th, from 12 feet on the 17th and, finally, getting up and down from a greenside bunker on the Par 5 18th hole to finish with a smile on his face as he moved into the top-10 with a weekend to further play catch-up.
In the Italian Open on the European Tour, Australian Min Woo Lee added a second round 68 to his opening 64 to claim the midway lead on 10-under-par 132. The 23-year-old carded four birdies and a bogey to lie two strokes clear of the quartet of Johannes Veerman, Tommy Fleetwood, Mikko Korkonen and Adri Arnaus while Jonathan Caldwell’s 68 for 139 moved him into tied-26th heading into the weekend.
On the Challenge Tour, veteran Michael Hoey demonstrated terrific shotmaking in the British Challenge at the Belfry to fire a second round 63 for nine-under-par 135 to lie in tied-fourth, three shots behind leaders Todd Clements and Hugo Leon.
TOUR CHAMPIONSHIP (East Lake, US unless stated, par 70)
Early completed scores
- 8 Rory McIlroy (NIre) 68 66
- 5 Xander Schauffele (USA) 68 69
- 3 Sam Burns (USA) 71 70
- 2 Sergio Garcia (Sp) 68 70 Sungjae Im (S Kor) 71 70 Scottie Scheffler (USA) 67 72 Corey Conners (Can) 67 72
- 1 Stewart Cink (USA) 72 68 E Collin Morikawa (USA) 70 73
+ 1 Daniel Berger (USA) 72 69 Hideki Matsuyam (Jap) 77 65 Patrick Reed (USA) 72 69
+ 2 Joaquin Niemann (Chl) 72 71, Erik van Rooyen (SA) 69 73
ITALIAN OPEN (Marco Simone GC, Rome, British unless stated, par 71)
132 Min-Woo Lee (Aus) 64 68.
134 Tommy Fleetwood 66 68, Mikko Korhonen (Fin) 68 66, Johannes Veerman (USA) 67 67, Adria Arnaus (Spa) 66 68.
135 Henrik Stenson (Swe) 64 71, Alexander Levy (Fra) 69 66, Daniel van Tonder (Rsa) 70 65, Edoardo Molinari (Ita) 65 70, Nicolai Hoejgaard (Den) 66 69.
136 Eddie Pepperell 65 71.
136 Francesco Laporta (Ita) 66 70.
137 Victor Perez (Fra) 70 67, Joost Luiten (Ned) 71 66, Masahiro Kawamura (Jpn) 67 70, Scott Jamieson 70 67, Oliver Farr 69 68.
138 Francesco Molinari (Ita) 69 69, Steven Brown 67 71, Kalle Samooja (Fin) 64 74, Gavin Green (Mal) 69 69, Ross Fisher 67 71, Victor Dubuisson (Fra) 70 68, Matthew Jordan 71 67, Maverick Antcliff (Aus) 69 69.
139 Wil Besseling (Ned) 73 66, Bernd Wiesberger (Aut) 69 70, Richard Bland 70 69, Scott Hend (Aus) 65 74, Jonathan Caldwell (NIre) 71 68, Thomas Pieters (Bel) 70 69, Sean Crocker (USA) 72 67, Maximilian Kieffer (Ger) 69 70, Adrian Meronk (Pol) 70 69, Dale Whitnell 69 70, David Coupland 70 69.
140 Pablo Larrazabal (Spa) 70 70, Calum Hill 75 65, Antoine Rozner (Fra) 71 69, Callum Shinkwin 69 71, George Coetzee (Rsa) 72 68, Matthew Southgate 70 70, Joakim Lagergren (Swe) 71 69.
Irish: 150 Cormac Sharvin 78 72