Rory McIlroy is now very much on target to move alongside boyhood mentor Nick Faldo as the equal third longest-standing world No. 1 following his superb second round 67 at the Genesis Invitational.
McIlroy grabbed six birdies, three over each nine, in a four-under par effort for a seven-under par two-round tally that handed him a very late second round share of second place.
American Matt Kuchar added a 69 to his opening round 64 to head the field at nine-under par on the famed Riviera course.
McIlroy only needs to finish in front of both World No.2 Brooks Koepka and Spaniard and World No.3 Jon Rahm to remain atop of the rankings, and in doing so he will have been World No. 1 for a combined 97-weeks.
Faldo, who had helped nurture McIlroy’s amateur career via his acclaimed Faldo Series, held the No. 1 ranking for a combined 97 weeks between 1990 and 1994.
Koepka made a total ‘meal’ of his closing hole in three-putting for a double-bogey ‘6’, dropping nearly 30 places in his round of 73 for a level par tally.
Rahm posted a 68 to be better placed at four-under par and among the leading dozen.
McIlroy teed-up on day two sporting a shirt looking more akin to a rugby top or a copy of the Nike sponsored USA Men’s Soccer team.
And McIlroy, excuse the pun, kicked a goal at the first in sending a booming 329-yard drive into the right rough just shy of a grass-covered storm-water ditch that runs across the fairway before finding the green with his second and then two-putting from 24-feet for an opening birdie.
It was a sign of good tidings to come for McIlroy.
He split the fairway at the third and then landed his second shot to just six-feet before holing the putt and moving to two-under for the round and five-under for the Euro 8.5m event.
The four-time Major winner dropped a shot at five but he regained that in holing a super 18-footer for birdie at the par-4 seventh hole.
McIlroy added three straight pars before holing a six-footer for a birdie ‘4’ at the par-5 11th hole and then took par at 12 and 13 before another great laser-like putt when he drained an 18-footer at the par-3 14th to move to four-under and into a then tie for the lead at seven-under par.
However, McIlroy dropped a shot in missing the green right at the par-3 16th but then he launched yet another rocket drive, on this occasion a 326-yard gem down the par-5 17th that led to him to chipping to three-foot with his third shot.
The birdie at 17 a day after eagling the same hole means he’s now three-under for the longest hole on the course that is measuring 606-yards – a hole ranked the second easiest on McIlroy’s scorecard.
McIlroy came to the last now sharing second place on seven-under and held that position thanks to a closing par.
“It was a very good round and I managed to get off to a nice start so it was one of those days you just had to hang in there by hitting fairways and hitting greens, and pick off your birdies when you can,” he said.
“I had some good up-and-downs on the back nine which was nice, as well.
“I birdied the par-5s and the holes that you should birdie, so it was solid round of golf.”
McIlroy ended his round near 4.20pm local time and admitted the course was getting firmer by the day.
“It was getting pretty firm near the end there like on 12 where I hit a little 6-iron into the green that pitched halfway up the green but then went over the back,” he said.
“So, the course is getting harder and you need to be on the fairway to control your spin into the greens as it is going to continue to get even tougher heading into the weekend.”
And McIlroy was asked what will he take now over the closing two rounds if he’s to capture a 19th PGA Tour title and his 28th worldwide.
“I would be very happy to play the four nines each in two-under,” he said.