Two late second round birdies propelled defending champion Rory McIlroy into a share of second place heading to the weekend rounds of the RBC Canadian Open in Toronto.
McIlroy had been struggling poorly with his second shot play for much of the round until birdies at the 15th and 17th holes handed him a two-under-par 68 for a six-under tally on the St. George’s course.
American Wyndham Clark, who led the opening thanks to a 63, found himself trailing for much of his round behind Englishman Matt Fitzpatrick, who ended his round in a golfing ambulance, allowing Clark to add a day two 70 and regain the lead, moving one clear at seven-under in the $US 8.7m event.
Fitzpatrick, 27, seeking a maiden Tour triumph was at 10-under and leading by two when he doubled the 14th, and while he birdied 15, he then bogeyed his closing three holes in a level par 70.
Joining McIlroy and Fitzpatrick in second is the American pair of Alex Smalley (67) and Keith Mitchell (67).
For all but the closing four holes, McIlroy’s round was another frustrating showing by the four-time major champion. He wowed the large crowd with some monster drives but it was his second shot play that was just so frustrating, leaving those looking on scratching their collective heads.
Dennis Paulson was runner-up in the 1999 Canadian Open and in calling the action for PGA Tour Radio, he remarked: “Rory is just so rhymthic with the driver but just so out of sorts with a wedge in his hand”.
However, McIlroy’s finish when he holed an eight-footer for birdie at the par-5 15th and then a 23-footer footer for a birdie ‘3’ on 17 was just what the golfing doctor ordered as he seeks to successfully defend a title for a first time in 32-tournament winning career.
“The course was playing a little tougher today, a little breezier,” McIlroy said after a par save at the last.
“It was hard to get the ball close and it felt like I was scrambling most of the day there but when I put myself in position to make birdies, I did.”
“It was challenging out there and I think the only thing this golf course needs for it to feel a little more major like is just a bit of length. I think that’s the only thing that’s missing.
“The rough is very penal, the greens are tricky, the wind’s up, it’s drying out a little bit because of the wind. All of a sudden, you’ve got a pretty testing golf course.
“If you drive it well there’s a bunch of wedges in your hand and you can still, there’s so many opportunities to make birdies out here.
“Overall it was a good score today. I scrambled well when I needed to. I didn’t really take advantage of how well I hit it off the tee. But overall, I felt it was, a couple under was a fair reflection of how the day went.
“It now looks like I’ll be in one of the final groups tomorrow and get to play in that sort of atmosphere again today, like we had this afternoon, I’m looking forward to that.”
Shane Lowry, and who finished a distant runner-up to McIlroy in 2019 when the event was last staged, was out in the group behind McIlroy and headed to the scorer’s hut just two back of McIlroy at four-under.
Lowry added a 69 to his opening 67, and with his second day’s play capped by three birdies in succession from the ninth hole.
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