Tied for seventh place after 36 holes at the Genesis Invitational, and just four strokes shy of leader Max Homa, Rory McIlroy has not been at his best but knows that he’s not far away.
“I’m right there,” he said after his second round at Riviera. “I feel like I’ve left a lot of shots out there the last couple of days, I just haven’t got any putts to drop. So it was nice to see that one drop at the last today eventually.”
The birdie on the last – one that put an end to a run of 13 successive pars – was just his third of the round, and unusually for a man who traditionally feasts on par 5s, none of the three came on Riviera’s expected scoring holes.
“I didn’t play the par 5s as well today,” he lamented. “I only played those in even par. Try to play the par 5s well. That’s the key to this golf course is birdieing the birdiable holes, I didn’t quite do that today. I made the birdies on the tougher ones, but hopefully going into the weekend I’ll sort of tidy all that up.”
The par 5 performance in Friday’s second round is likely an aberration – he caught a bad break on the 11th hole, his first par 5 of the day, finding a poor lie short of the green with little chance to get the ball close. A poor pitch cost him on the 17th after he’d put himself in the mayor’s office in two, and a poor second shot was the trouble at the first.
What’s likely to be of greater concern is the ability to make putts from outside the expected-making range. The greens at Riviera – as on most of the United States’ West Coast courses – are Poa Annua, a surface that McIlroy is far from comfortable on.
Just one of McIlroy’s PGA Tour wins has come on Poa Annua greens – the 2015 WGC Matchplay at San Francisco’s Harding Park – though Bermuda and Bent Grass are more common on tour and make up the vast majority of the putting surfaces on McIlroy’s typical schedule, but it’s also something he recognises.
“Yeah, it’s just poa,” was his response to a question about his frustrations on the greens at Riviera through two rounds, “misreads a little bit, just sort of having a tough time trusting my reads. Like technically I’m good. I think from like inside five or six feet I’ve been really good, it’s just outside of that range I haven’t really got a lot to drop. For me, I think that means more just reading the greens properly rather than anything technical, which is a good thing.”
Chasing down Max Homa and Jon Rahm will prove difficult given both are extremely comfortable on Poa greens, but he’s been a little sloppy, a little unfortunate, and a little frustrated and he’s still just four back.