Rory McIlroy returned a much-improved three-under par round of 69 but admits it would take something really special to reel in CJ Cup leader Xander Schauffele over the weekend in Las Vegas.
McIlroy finds himself twelve shots back of the American at the halfway point at Shadow Creek in a distant share of 26th after posting a round that included seven birdies and four bogeys.
“Better, much better,” was McIlroy’s assessment of his Friday play.
“You know, it’s hard, I’ve spent sort of the last two weeks working on my golf swing and I’ve maybe played a total of nine holes. I’ve just spent that time on the range. Then trying to go from the range, where every swing that you’re making with a thought or two or three, to on the golf course, where if you have one, that’s enough.
“Caught myself a few times yesterday, too many thoughts out there and not really freeing myself up. Today, did a better job of that. Mentally freed myself up, didn’t worry too much, didn’t try to be too perfect and hit some really good shots. Yeah, it was better.”
Certainly an improvement but at two-under par, the Holywood star needs to find 12 shots on smooth swinging Schauffele who raced to a three-stroke lead after carding a second round eight-under par 64.
Starting on the tenth, Schauffele was incredible to the turn, carding seven birdies in an outward half of 29 and added one more in a bogey-free effort that leaves him at 14-under par, three clear of Tyrrell Hatton in second place with Russell Henley a shot further back in third.
“Yeah, it was nice,” said Schuaffele. “I had a chip-in there, two long putts. Some of those holes you’re not really trying to birdie them, you’re kind of just trying to leave yourself an uphill 35-footer and fortunately I made a couple of them.
“It was a nice stretch. Got a little bit stale there on the other side. Pace of play slowed down a lot, kind of hot, easy to let the mind wander. Upset I didn’t make more birdies, but pleased I didn’t make any bogeys.”
For McIlroy, although nothing is impossible, he’ll now go into the weekend at Shadow Creek with one eye on his golf game peaking elsewhere:
“Yeah, same thing, play with less thought, play — you know, I’ll do the work on the range tomorrow and still have my checkpoints of what I’ve been working on in my swing,” he added.
“And then I guess my goal is to get on that first tee and almost have a little bit of amnesia and forget about what I’ve just done. If I can do that for the next two days, that will be — that will be a good goal.
“Twelve back going into the weekend, it’s going to take something very special to catch up to Xander. But if I play well, I can post a good finish and give myself some confidence going into Sherwood.”
Shane Lowry will be joining McIlroy in that search for confidence after the Clara man could only manage a two-over par round of 74 on Friday in the desert.
For the second day running, Lowry double-bogeyed the par-4 ninth, though this time after finding water with his approach from the fairway. His round included four birdies and four bogeys but at two-over par for the tournament, the Open Champion will be looking to reduce the errors as his Masters prep ramps up ahead of November’s tournament.
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