Rory McIlroy admitted his performance off the tee prevented him from giving himself many birdie chances on a testing second day at the PGA Championship.
McIlroy, who surrendered his slender overnight lead, is in a share of fifth place on four-under-par and trails Will Zalatoris by five shots heading into the weekend at Southern Hills after he battled his way to a one-over 71.
The four-time major winner rolled back the years with a superb opening 65 on Thursday, his lowest opening round in a major since 2011 and the first time he led a major championship since winning the 2014 PGA Championship, but he struggled to get out of neutral in round two.
It was a battle almost from the word go as the Holywood native found himself two-over for the day after dropped shots on 2 and 7 and the day progressed without finding too many birdie chances as he found just six fairways on Friday, a statistic he is hoping to change over the weekend.
“Yeah, I would say I didn’t put myself in position off the tee enough to get my approach to where it needed to be,” lamented McIlroy. “The thing is like, you miss it in the left rough on 1, I was literally a foot into the rough on 2, a foot into the rough on 3. Like they’re good drives, but it’s a massive difference between being on the fairway and being in this rough.
“I don’t think the stats tell the full story there. I think it was more me being out of position rather than — I certainly felt like I played from the fairway a lot more yesterday, and I sort of did that a little bit more on the back nine and I gave myself chances. You know, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, putting yourself in the fairway here is very important, and I just didn’t do that enough today.”
However, McIlroy did grind out a 71 after eight pars and a birdie on twelve on a back nine where his deft touch kept him in touch as he salvaged pars from off the green on the 16th, 17th and 18th.
Speaking to the media post-round the 20-time PGA Tour winner didn’t feel that nerves had anything to do with why he struggled, but admitted he struggled to stay committed to shots on a few occasions.
“No, I don’t think it was nerves. I committed to the game plan pretty well. I felt pretty relaxed out there. I got a flier on 2, and then that sort of — I thought — I was in the rough on 3 and thought I would get a flier and it came out soft.
“I wouldn’t say it was nerves. It was maybe just — you’re not going to go out and shoot 65 every day. Maybe it was a case I wasn’t maybe quite as committed or aggressive as I was yesterday.”
Ahead of McIlroy there were plenty of fireworks as Justin Thomas knocked him off his perch with a 67 to move to six-under before Zalatoris stormed to the summit with a 65 to get to nine-under.
Chile’s Mito Pereira is in unchartered territory on -8 while Bubba Watson came within a whisker of a record 62 as he moved to seven-under.
Pádraig Harrington’s week came to an abrupt halt after he missed the cut on twelve-over-par. The 2008 PGA Champion shot an improved 75 but he will have the weekend off.
The week promised more for the three-time major winner after two runner-up finishes on the PGA Tour Champions, including at last week’s major but an opening 77 left him with a mountain to climb.