McIlroy eases into contention as Harrington comes unstuck
Rory McIlroy played the dreaded 'Green Mile' at Quail Hollow the wrong way round but came up with the right answers in the Wells Fargo Championship yesterday.
This fearsome stretch of 16 (par 4), 17 (par 3) and 18 (par 4) is a traditional card-wrecker, as McIlroy found to his cost on Thursday when his tee-shot ended up in the water at 17.
The tariff for that error was a double-bogey five and a disappointing end to a decent opening round.
Yesterday was a different story. McIlroy started on the 10th tee, got the Green Mile out of the way on his outward trip and registered his intent to make a serious challenge on a tournament he won in 2010.
After six holes, 10 through 15, he had three birdies on his scorecard, and manage to tiptoe through the Green Mile in level-par to turn in 33.
There was a slight wobble on 16 where he missed the green left and had to keep his nerve to pitch beautifully to three feet and save par.
"I was sort of between clubs on 16, between a six and seven-iron and tried to hit a little soft cut with a six-iron. I came straight out of it.
"On the third shot I had a lot of things going for me. It was a good lie, it was on an upslope. All I had to do was throw it up there.
"I probably had a three- or four-yard window on where to land it, and thankfully the ball landed in there and trickled down close. It was nice to see a par there," he said.
With that out of the way, the recently-crowned WGC Match Play champion kept his composure with seven pars and two birdies the reward for some fine shot-making.
After his 67 put him on seven-under for the tournament, McIlroy was just three shots behind clulbhouse leaders Webb Simpson (67) and Robert Streb (69) who set the target at ten-under.
Once again, McIlroy's near-flawless driving was the key to a round that maintains the pressure on the other challengers.
"I've really found a good groove with the driver. I drove it beautifully last week at Sawgrass and I've continued to do that this week. If you can put your ball in play and keep it well up the fairway here, you'll have a good chance.
"My iron play wasn't as good as it could have been but it was still a good score and it puts me right there at the weekend.
"I feel good out there. Mentally I feel very sharp. I'm not putting myself under that much stress out there in terms of having to save pars or anything, so more of the same.
"If I can hit it in the fairway like I have been doing and maybe just be a little more crisp with my approach play, hopefully that'll be the key."
Padraig Harrington, like McIlroy began on the 10th tee but he did not enjoy a comfortable experience on the Green Mile.
These holes played among the most difficult in the first round - 16 was second, 17 (9th) and the 18th was officially the toughest on the course on Thursday.
Harrington bogeyed four holes on his first nine - the 12th, 15th, 16th and 18th to lie two-par for the tournament, and in danger of being marked 'absent' for the weekend.
Normally the Dublin revels in the challenge when the odds are against him, but he could not find the spectacular start to the second nine which he needed to ignite a recovery.
Three successive pars left him at four-over after 12, and then he bogeyed the par-4 13th.
An impressive birdie four on the fifth hole, his 14th, where he lashed a 3-wood 260 yards onto the green and got down in two from 30 feet was too little, too late, and a 77 for three-over 147 ended his interest in the tournament.
Meanwhile, Michael Hoey worked himself into contention at the Open de Espana at Real Club de Golf in El Prat.
The Northern Irish player delivered a four-under-par 68 for 139 and a place in the top four going into the last two rounds.
"Believe it or not, it's the first time I've made the cut at the Spanish Open. I was trying not to think about that as I was going quite well.
"I didn't hit all the greens and fairways, which you're not going to do anyway because it's windy, it's tricky and it's a tough test of golf," said Hoey afterwards.
Edouard Espana of France fired a 69 to lead at 137 (seven-under par).
Ricardo Gonzalez (Argentina) was second on six-under, with Hoey and Darren Fichardt next on five-under par.
Peter Lawrie (five-over) and Damien McGrane (DQ) missed the cut.
Ryder Cup hero and tournament holder Miguel Angel Jimenez, meanwhile, aced the par-3 eighth hole, using a six-iron from 160 yards.
On the Challenge Tour, first-round pacesetter Ruaidhri McGee was in second place, a shot behind new leader Jack Senior of England in the Made in Denmark Challenge in Copenhagen.
McGee's one-over-par 72 for 139 (three-under) still keeps him well in the hunt for first prize. Senior shot 70 for 138.
"I turned in one-under and made a couple of other birdies, but I made a mess of my finish," said McGee.
Open de Espana,
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Wells Fargo Championship,
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