Despite struggling off the tee, Rory McIlroy is in a share for the lead at the BMW PGA Championship at Olympia Fields.
McIlroy, coming off a tie for second last week, hit just three fairways in a 5-under-par 65 to share the lead with Open champion Brian Harman and he told the media that he got a lot out of the round and said that the missed fairways weren’t as bad as you’d think.
“Only hitting three fairways today and coming up with 65 is a bit of a bonus”, said McIlroy who is projected to move to the top of the FedEx Cup rankings heading into the Tour Championship.
“But with the golf course being so soft, it’s almost an advantage to be playing out of the rough going into some of these greens because you know the ball is not going to spin. I’m not saying I was trying to aim for the rough, but I think a lot of the tee shots I was just being super aggressive because I knew in the back of my mind I wasn’t really being penalised for it”.
McIlroy’s short game was sharp as he started with six straight pars before birdies on seven and nine meant he turned in 2-under-par 33.
A birdie on 10 got him to three under before a few moments of magic over the last 4 holes.
After driving it in the fairway bunker on the par-5 15th, many were expecting a lay up but McIlroy took out his 3-wood and picked the ball clean, hitting it in the greenside bunker and getting up and down for his birdie.
The highlight was McIlroy’s birdie on 17 after he’d missed way left off the tee, blocked out by trees
From heavy rough, with a 7-iron, he slashed at the ball and watched it narrowly miss the tree trunk and branches, run through a bunker and roll over the green. From there he chipped in, smiling from ear to ear as he picked the ball out of the hole.
“The window was OK,” McIlroy said of his shoot-the-gap second shot. “It was more there was a couple of branches above the window I was looking at, and I was like, if it hits those, it’s just going to drop down sort of near that front left bunker and I’ll have a decent angle down the green and mostly have at least a 10-footer or less to save par.
“It was a bit of a hit and a hope,” he added. “…It was either sort of chip it out or try to take it on, and it’s only Thursday, I thought, ‘What the heck, I’ll take it on and see what happens’”.
He was joined by Harman, who chipped in twice and they lead by a shot from Sahith Theegala and Matthew Fitzpatrick, who both shot 4-under-par 66s. Both players are on the FedEx bubble with Theegala needing a top 31 finish and Fitzpatrick needing a tie for 8th or better to make the Tour Championship next week.
It was another disappointing day for Seamus Power who shot a 6-over-par 76 to open his tournament, which included a double bogey on 17.
Power, who needs a tie for 12th or better, three putted three times in what was a real blow to his Ryder Cup chances.
McIlroy gets his 2nd round underway at 12.38pm local time, 6.38pm Irish time while Seamus Power is off at 8.48am local time, 2.38pm Irish time.