Rory McIlroy has spent the best part of 36 holes looking disappointed in himself and the world but somehow he has managed to desperately cling on to the coattails of the leaders to trail by five at the halfway stage of the PGA Championship.
Scottie Scheffler, Corey Conners and Viktor Hovland hold the halfway lead on five-under-par with Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka in hot pursuit after making moves on the back nine.
Twice it seemed McIlroy’s hopes of a fifth major were going to disappear into a watery grave on the front nine but another gutsy effort on the closing stretch saw his chances survive with a pulse heading into the weekend.
Once more it was a slow start for the Northern Irishman and after bogeys arrived on 6 and 7 after driving into the water on both holes. There are no pictures on the scorecard and from there, he found a way to get the ball in the hole. A 44 foot birdie on nine kickstarted his round before he picked up another shot on the short par-4 14th.
But it’s the 16-foot birdie effort on 18 to shoot 69 and lie on level-par that could prove so crucial and perhaps put a bit of colour into the clammy cheeks of McIlroy who is clearly fighting a dose and his swing at Oak Hill.
“Jeez, I need to be patient with the way I’m hitting it off the tee,” joked McIlroy who managed a par on 16 after his drive seemed destined to go out of bounds only for a tree to save him.
“Yeah, look, it’s that sort of golf course. I feel like with the way it’s set up it’s sort of easy-ish to shoot 72 but pretty difficult to shoot 67.
“Yeah, when I’m working on the range, I hardly miss a shot on the range, and then it’s just trying to get it to go from the range to the golf course that I’m finding difficult. I stayed really patient today. I think my patience was rewarded with a couple of good breaks and a couple of birdies coming in.”
The four-time major winner hit just two fairways on Thursday. Five drives on the short stuff was a slight improvement but he ranks 146th in driving and 109th in strokes gained off the tee. It’s been his approach shots that have bailed him out and kept him alive (6th in SG) in this tournament and it’s no secret that the driver holds the key for McIlroy who was almost dumbfounded to find himself five back when looking at the scoreboard on 18.
“I think how terribly I’ve felt over the golf ball over the last two days, the fact that I’m only five back — yeah, not saying I could be up there with one of my best performances, but when I holed that putt at the last, I looked at the board, and I thought, I can’t believe I’m five back. I guess that’s a good thing because I know if I can get it in play off the tee, that’s the key to my success over the weekend. If I can get the ball in play off the tee, I’ll have a shot.”
Alongside McIlroy on level-par is Shane Lowry who closed with back-to-back bogeys having threatened a back nine of 29.
The Offaly man moved to within three with five birdies in six holes on his back nine including three in a row from the 13th but poor drives on 17 and 18 cost him dearly coming home.
It was another bruising day in Rochester but the Offaly man will still be grimacing despite reviving his chances with a three-under 67.
Pádraig Harrington made the cut at his ease on three-over after a 71 but he might have been better.
The three-time major champion was two-under for the day and level-par for the championsip after six holes of his second round after holing birdie putts of 2 feet, five feet, two feet, three feet as he played the course from back to front.
A bogey on the difficult 17th saw him turn in 34 but he fell foul to the 7th hole as a double bogey dropped him out of contention.
Seamus Power missed the cut on nine-over-par.
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