Rory McIlroy surges to stay on Adam Scott's tail
Published 05/03/2016 | 02:30
If happiness is a long walk with a putter then Rory McIlroy was walking tallest at the Blue Monster last night.
Just 24 hours after a mediocre performance with the blade and only hours after former Ryder Cup skipper Paul McGinley said he was making too many mistakes and paying too much attention to what his rivals were doing, the former world No 1 made a Major winner's move in the WGC-Cadillac Championship, holing a 20-footer for birdie at the 18th for a 65.
Having used the blade 33 times and single-putted just four times in a 71 on Thursday, McIlroy overcame an early putting blip to run riot on the greens.
A total of nine single putts in his first 12 holes, including five in a row from the fourth, saw him soar up the leaderboard en route to a 23-putt, seven-under-par round that eventually left him tied for second, two shots behind leader Adam Scott on eight-under par.
"I stroked the ball well yesterday, I just struggled with the pace," McIlroy said at the finish. "So I worked a little bit on pace last night. It was nice to birdie the 18th. I saw that Adam birdied the 17th to get to 10-under so I didn't want to be too far behind going into the weekend."
McIlroy confessed that what stopped him changing to the left hand under style earlier was his fear of comparison with world No 1 Jordan Spieth.
"It's funny, I've been playing it around in my head a little bit about making the switch," he said. "And the one thing that I was sort of worried about was the McIlroy copying Spieth. That was my big thing. That was the whole thing for me was that.
"There's been a lot of good in there this year," McIlroy added. "I made the most birdies out of anyone in Dubai. I was up there in birdies in Northern Trust and I made more birdies than Rickie Fowler in the Honda Classic and missed the cut so the birdies have been there, but it was just eradicating the bad stuff.
"The putts from inside 10 feet have been missing and I holed those today. That's the difference between turning 71s and 70s into 65s. I am very excited now to be in the mix and I feel like it's a course that suits my style of game."
It was almost as if he had heard McGinley reiterate what he told the Irish Independent last October about his new habit of talking about his putting.
"The important thing for Rory is not to over-react to what (Jordan Spieth and Jason Day) are doing," McGinley said. "The important thing for him is not to try to be something, just because they are."
McGinley also knows that McIlroy is a dogged competitor and the left-hand-under putting style worked a dream in the Florida sunshine though there was a moment of doubt early on before he outscored Spieth (69-72) by five shots over the first two days and Day (72-74) by 10.
Scott, who won last week's Honda Classic, continued his good form with a six-under 66 for a two-shot lead over McIlroy and defending champion Dustin Johnson, who blasted an eight-under 64.
But the big Irish story was McIlroy, who has clearly found confidence in his new cack-handed putting method.
After following a chip and putt birdie at the first by lipping out from four feet for par at the second, McIlroy crucially holed a seven-footer for par at the fourth and he was off and running.
He birdied the next four holes in row, holing putts of seven feet, 14 feet, five feet, and three feet to get to five-under par.
Out in 32, he then had to hole a seven-footer for par at the 10th after bunkering his third and a nine-footer at the 11th after a poor chip.
He then holed a 10-footer for birdie at the par-five 12th and a 25-footer at the par-three 15th to go six-under for the day and tie for the lead with England's Danny Willett.
Veteran Phil Mickelson (45) had cruised three clear of the field on nine-under par after eight holes. But as McIlroy moved up a gear, the left-hander made mistakes, covering the back nine in 40 for a 72 that left him on five-under.
If it was a great day on the greens for McIlroy, it was a frustrating one for Shane Lowry and Graeme McDowell as they failed to get rewarded for some excellent play from tee to green.
Lowry bogeyed the ninth, his 18th, from the greenside bunker and fell back to level-par after a 73 while McDowell was smiling after a birdie-birdie-par finish for a 71 left him on one over.
"That's probably the least I have ever got out of a round of golf," Lowry said after a round featuring three bogeys and just two birdies. "I am playing great, so I am expecting a decent weekend.
"You know, I feel I am hitting great putts and the putter feels great in my hand. I feel like I am going to hole putts, they are just not going in."
Lowry's frustration was summed up by the 18th, his ninth, where his 192-yard approach from the centre of the fairway sailed so far right it ricocheted off the roof of a corporate tent right of the green and ended up near the practice putting green.
"For the front nine, I felt like I didn't hit a bad shot and I was one-over," Lowry said, revealing he had to bite his lip after that shot following his bad language fine last Sunday. "I put a good swing on it and it pitched on the grandstand. Hopefully things go the other way over the weekend."
McDowell could not be happier with the way he is striking the ball but he was also frustrated on the greens, despite finishing birdies at the seventh and eighth.
"I hit the golf ball really, really well," McDowell said afterwards.
WGC-Cadillac Championship: Live, Sky Sports 4, 5.0