Thursday 22 March 2018

McIlroy sails through the 'Trap' to avoid Honda cut

Brian Keogh in Palm Beach

Rory McIlroy neatly side-stepped 'The Bear Trap' at the Honda Classic to avoid his first missed cut since last year's US Open.

The young Ulsterman (21) was teetering on the projected six-over par cut line when he racked up three bogeys and a birdie in his first 13 holes approaching the deadly, three-hole stretch on the Champions Course at PGA National.

But after draining a 16-foot birdie putt from the back of the 167-yard 15th, the world No 8 shaved the hole with a 12 foot chance at the 16th before squeaking out a brave par-three at the terrifying 17th.

Playing into a stiff wind, McIlroy's five-iron tee shot hit the bank right of the 17th green but miraculously stayed dry.

From there he pitched to eight feet and holed the putt before finishing with a birdie at the par-five 18th for a 71 that left him tied with Graeme McDowell (71) on four over par -- ten shots behind leader Kyle Stanley.

Pleased to play the last five holes in two under, McIlroy said: "I feel like four over is nearly the worst I could be. I've played nicely but just haven't got anything going.

"But I was happy to play the last five in two under, I thought that was a pretty good effort considering the tough holes coming up at 15, 16 and 17. I was happy that I was able to come back and make a few birdies when I needed them."

Despite winds gusting up to 30 mph, American Stanley fired a four-under par 66 to lead by one shot on six under. South African's Rory Sabbatini is one stroke back after yesterday's course record equalling, six under 64.

World No 2 Lee Westwood, who needs to finish third or better to go back to the top of the rankings, carded a rollercoaster 69 to trail the leader by just four shots in joint seventh place.

Reigning US Open champion McDowell, who has enjoyed a magical run of form of the past nine months, struggled with his long game and an ice cold putter but confessed that he was happy with his four over total.

Believing he can motor his way back into contention with a low round today, McDowell said: "I'm battling my full swing right now. I have been working extremely hard on my short game the last couple of weeks and that's been the pleasing thing because it has been sharp.

"But my long game is a little out of sync. I just need to put the pieces together because a few weeks ago my long game felt easy and my short game was difficult."

While Sabbatini had just 21 putts in his stunning round, McDowell used the blade 30 times in yesterday's 71 and apart from holing a 25-footer from the fringe of the fourth, his 13th, for only his second birdie of the week, the longest official putt he has holed in two days was a slippery six and a half footer for par at his 17th hole yesterday.

"It's a taxing golf course and my ball striking is not where I'd like it to be and I haven't putted well the last two days, which is kind of bizarre," McDowell said.

"All in all it's been a brutal couple of days and I'm very happy to hang in there the way I have. You are never very happy with four over par but this is a par-70 golf course, which is hard at the best of times.

"I have hung in well the last couple of days and if I can just find the middle of the clubface at the weekend I can make a score out there, I know I can."

Honda Classic,

Live, Sky Sports 3, 6.0pm

Irish Independent

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