Sunday 4 December 2016

French test the 'ideal' preparation for impressive McIlroy

Phil Casey

Published 02/07/2016 | 02:30

Rory McIlroy: Joint leader. Photo: Getty
Rory McIlroy: Joint leader. Photo: Getty

Rory McIlroy refused to let a last-hole bogey ruin some "ideal preparation" for the Open Championship as Masters champion Danny Willett suffered more frustration ahead of the season's third Major.

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McIlroy carded a superb 66 in testing conditions at Le Golf National to claim a share of the halfway lead in the French Open. However, Willett's last competitive appearance before Troon ended in a second consecutive missed cut.

Six birdies in the first 14 holes had taken McIlroy into the outright lead in his first event since missing the cut in the US Open, only for the 27-year-old to drive into the water on the 18th for the second day running. The resulting bogey left the World No 4 in a five-way tie for the lead on five-under par alongside Mikko Ilonen, Brandon Stone, Thongchai Jaidee and Wang Jeunghun.

"It's a really good day's work," said McIlroy, who revealed after his opening 71 that he had whittled 17 swing thoughts "down to about five" as he worked on eradicating some bad habits.

"I can't let a bit of a disappointing finish taint a really good day. I felt for the most part I controlled my ball well and holed some good putts. Even the ones that didn't go in looked like they were going to and I'm in a great position going into the weekend."

McIlroy, who was unable to defend his Open title in 2015 after suffering an ankle injury while playing football with friends, added: "It's ideal preparation for the Open, especially with the little breeze we have had as well.

"It's great preparation to have my last two competitive rounds before the Open in contention in tricky conditions. I can't really ask for much more than that."

Tiger Woods last night confirmed his absence from Troon as he continues to struggle to recover from his back injury.

Willett, meanwhile, had earlier only been able to add a second round of 72 to his opening 75 to finish five-over par and continue a disappointing run of form.

The World No 9 finished third in the BMW PGA Championship at the end of May, but smashed the putter he used at Augusta in frustration during the US Open and missed the cut in the BMW International Open last week.

"The last three weeks we've putted as bad as we ever have and things haven't quite gone our way," the 28-year-old said. "When you keep shooting the worst score you can it's a tricky game.

"Just not done anything very well really. S*** couple of weeks."

Padraig Harrington survived for the weekend after a second round of one-under-par 70 left him one over for the tournament but Paul Dunne, fresh from winning the British Open final qualifying at Woburn on Tuesday, had another difficult day with a seven-over par 78 leaving him 10 shots outside the cut mark on 13 over.

Meanwhile, Shane Lowry shot a two-over-par 72 at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational, following his first-round 76. The Offaly man had two bogeys on his outwards nine, and four birdies and four bogeys on his rollercoaster return.

Lowry's chances of defending his title look shot with World No 1 Jason Day leading the field on four-under par going into today's third round.

French Open,
Live, Sky Sports 4, 12.30

WGC Bridgestone Invitational,
Live, Sky Sports 4, 5.0

Irish Independent

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