Rory takes route 66 to stay in the driving seat
Twelve months ago, McIlroy set a personal first when withdrawing midway through the second round. Yesterday he set another first, this time taking just 23 putts to go with his 26 putts from the first round. McIlroy had never broken the magic 50 mark at the halfway point before. "Yes, you could say I've experienced the different ends of the spectrum here," McIlroy said.
It all added up to a 66 and only Brendon de Jonge could get within one of the 24-year-old Ulsterman's 11-under total through halfway, the portly Presidents Cup player from Zimbabwe boosting his hopes of winning for the first time on the US Tour at PGA National with a six-under-par 64.
Inevitably, McIlroy's morning was not without incident. Starting on the back nine, he bogeyed both the 11th and 12th and approached the Bear Trap with some trepidation.
But as he had on Thursday, McIlroy went through the feared trio from the 15th in one-under, courtesy of a brilliant wedge from 156 yards to five feet on the par-four 16th. With another birdie on the par-five 18th he was back to seven-under.
His days flip-flopped. While the inward half had provided the red numbers in his opening 63, now the outward half on the Champion Course was haemorrhaging birdies.
McIlroy hit only three of the seven fairways but took just 11 putts. The highlight came on the two par-threes, the fifth and eighth, where he holed 30-footers. What a transformation from his last strokeplay event in Dubai last month, where the flat-stick undoubtedly cost him victory.
"I did some work with (putting coach) Dave Stockton last week which definitely helped," McIlroy said. "And all of a sudden yesterday it started to feel very, very comfortable. I can see 63, 64, 65 out there, maybe some guys can't."
Tiger Woods certainly couldn't. After a winter of blissful idleness, his swing still appears to be caked with rust in his third tournament of 2014.
The world No 1 had to scramble heroically for a 69 and squeezed through to the weekend on even-par, just inside the projected cut mark.
Tiger's difficulties came into sharpest focus early in the back nine. At 11, he made a decent bogey after blocking his three-wood tee shot so far right, it landed in deep grass bordering a bunker on the distant fourth hole.
Clearly overcompensating, Woods hooked his next tee shot left and, after dropping away from a cart path, hit his approach into a greenside bunker, from which he got up-and-down to save par.
Then, after finding mid-fairway at 13 with a pure drive, Tiger missed the green short right from a paltry 120 yards with a wedge in his hand. However, disbelieving groans by his fans in the gallery were drowned out by a throaty roar as Woods chipped-in brilliantly from the fringe for the birdie that brought him back inside the pale
Playing this weekend might be a dubious privilege for the struggling Tiger if Atlantic ocean breezes give the Champion Course back its teeth.
Graeme McDowell is praying for wind to blow a hit-and-miss second round 67 lifted to three-under, eight behind McIlroy.
"Conditions were very benign today. It was soft and with ball in hand and perfect greens, scoring conditions were good. Hopefully we'll get something tougher at the weekend. That's what I'll need as one of the chasers," said the Portrush man
"Cold on the greens in the first round, a little bit better today," added McDowell. His seven birdies included a fabulous hole-out from the back bunker at 17, minutes after dunking his tee shot at 15 in the lake for a double-bogey five.
"My iron play was a little off kilter today and I'm not 100 per cent happy with my ball flight control," he admitted.
Sergio Garcia clawed his way across the projected cut line with a two-under 68 courtesy of gallant birdies on 17 and 18. Phil Mickelson missed-out on one-over after a 71, while Henrik Stenson slumped to nine over with a staggering 76.
After carving out a splendid 68 on Thursday, Padraig Harrington found himself back in the pressure pot yesterday as a three-over par 73 gave him the weekend off for the fourth time in five tournaments this year.
Sweet birdies at the par three 15th and fourth gave the Dubliner a lifeline after he bogeyed his his second hole, 11, and two and three ... yet a missed six-foot par putt at nine sealed his fate. An abject 78 left Darren Clarke 142nd and last on 15-over. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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