McIlroy has work cut out at Phoenix Open

Bernie McGuire
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McIlroy has work cut out at Phoenix Open

Rory McIlroy in Arizona (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

A four-under par 67 lifted Rory McIlroy just inside the top-30 heading to golf’s traditional ‘Moving Day’ at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

McIlroy grabbed six birdies while taking two bogeys to be lying a reachable seven shots behind American Xander Schauffele, who signed for a 64 to lead by a stroke at 12-under par on the TPC Scottsdale course.

Steve Stricker, the 53-year-old USA Ryder Cup Captain, carded a 66 to be sharing second place with former PGA champion, Keegan Bradley, who posted a 65. Schauffele capped his round with a 15th hole eagle and five birdies as the 27-year-old seeks a fifth PGA Tour title and his first since victory in the 2019 Sentry Tournament of Champions.

“It was nice to come home in 30 and I think everyone in the field knows if you can play those holes properly you have the chance to make a lot of birdies coming in,” he said. “Obviously it can go the other way, as well. So, it was kind of a slow front nine.

“I stayed really patient and I hit it in the fairway most of the holes coming down the stretch and gave myself some opportunities. It was just nice to sort of capitalise. It’s a one-shot lead. If you have like a seven-shot lead I think that would be a question to answer on a Saturday. I have a one-shot lead. Like I saw today, I teed off and I was ten shots back of where I started.

“I’m going to wake up tomorrow and someone is going to be four shots ahead of me or something like that. I think this is one of those golf courses where no lead is very safe, and you need to really, like I said, keep my head down and stay calm.”

For a second day running, in his first Phoenix appearance, McIlroy was soon over par though it was only one dropped shot – a bogey at the second hole. A day earlier he was three-over par after just two holes but once again he quickly recovered and for the next seven holes it was all forward gears with McIlroy grabbing four birdies from the third to ninth holes.

McIlroy’s eagle putt at the par-5 third hole stopped just six inches right of the hole while at the sixth hole, then lying well down T75th in the field, he landed a wedge shot to five-feet to move to one-under for his round.

He then made back-to-back birdies, first at the par-4 eighth hole, where he holed a four-footer, and then on the ninth where McIlroy was really dialled-in, landing a wedge from the middle of the fairway to seven foot and finding the centre of the cup. McIlroy’s fourth birdie of the day lifted the 31-year old from a share of 48th into a share of 35th at four-under par.

A string of five pars followed when McIlroy two-putted the par-5 15th from just under 40-feet for a birdie to move to four-under but gave the shot back at the next, the famous ‘stadium hole’ par-3 16th in finding a greenside bunker much to the moans of a COVID-19 very reduced spectator audience.

Mcllroy made amends chipping to five-feet at the par-4 17th for birdie ahead of a closing par to be among 14 players on five-under, including fellow Irish Open winners Russell Knox and Jon Rahm all sharing 27th place It is somewhat appropriate here to mention that 29 out of the past 30 winners in Phoenix were inside the top-10 after two rounds.

European Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington’s bright return to form in the Dubai desert was soured in the Arizona desert with scores of 71 and 73 to miss the three-under cut-off mark.

 

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