Rory McIlroy narrowly misses course record as Jason Day leads at Sawgrass
Rory McIlroy missed out on creating a piece of history in the Players Championship as Shane Lowry set the clubhouse target in the weather-affected second round on Friday.
McIlroy carded seven birdies and an eagle in his first 16 holes at Sawgrass and came to the par-five ninth, his final hole, needing a birdie to set a new course record of 62.
However, faced with a second shot from 271 yards, the four-time major winner surprisingly opted to lay up and then missed the green from 90 yards with his approach, before fluffing a chip and running up his only bogey of the day.
The resulting 64 left McIlroy three shots behind his potential Olympic team-mate Lowry, who added a 68 to his opening 65 to finish 11 under par, a shot ahead of J onas Blixt, Alex Cejka and Cameron Tringale.
World number one Jason Day remained top of the leaderboard on 14 under but was unable to complete his round following a two-hour delay due to lightning in the area, the US PGA Champion opting not to complete the 15th after play was eventually suspended due to darkness.
Lowry had started on the back nine and bogeyed the 14th and birdied the 16th before dumping his tee shot into the water on the 17th, but then holed out from 120 yards for only the sixth eagle in tournament history on the 18th.
Birdies on the second and third, either side of the delay, were followed by another on the fifth to leave the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational champion in contention for a second PGA Tour title.
"I got off to a bit of a shaky start today, I didn't feel that comfortable and then we were called in," Lowry told Sky Sports. "To go back out there and make a couple of birdies and finish the round nicely was good."
Lowry revealed on Thursday that his poor form had prompted an "emergency" call to his coach Neil Manchip before play began, while he also benefited from a putting tip from Graeme McDowell.
"I was struggling to see the lines and he gave me a tip to stand a bit further from the ball and I've managed to hole a few putts the last couple of days, which is nice," Lowry added.
McIlroy had earlier holed plenty of putts but never gave himself a chance to do so on the final hole after taking an unusually conservative approach.
"I've got it in my head with the ninth hole that any time that I have gone for the green it has not really worked out for me," McIlroy told Sky Sports. "I had a good number today and laid up with a nine iron.
"I probably had a two iron to the front of the green. In hindsight, with that pin being on the left side, anywhere on the right I probably had a chance to get up and down. I thought get it within 100 yards and take my chances from there and just didn't hit a great third shot and left myself in a difficult position."
McIlroy felt he had got the worst of the weather as one of the later starters on Thursday and was pleased to take advantage of the better conditions on Friday morning.
"It was benign, soft greens and the back nine you could not get it any easier, so to take advantage of that was really nice," added McIlroy, who is now a combined 44 under par for the back nine and 12 over for the front since 2013.
"I was going well and it would have been nice to make a four on the last, but 64 is still a great score and hopefully I'm not going to be too far behind going into the weekend. I hit a lot of quality shots today. I feel like my game has been under control the last four rounds so hopefully I can continue like that over the weekend."
American Colt Knost was a shot ahead of McIlroy after earlier also missing out on the course record, the world number 184 shooting 63 after three-putting the 18th from 40 feet.
Knost, who carded 10 birdies in 15 holes from the third, admitted nerves had contributed to missing his par putt on the 18th from four feet, adding on PGA Tour Live: "I hit a pretty good putt to be honest and it just lipped out on me.
"It was cool to be in the mix and knowing I could do something that no-one else has done but we have two more days to do that."