Rory McIlroy needs to make his move
'I can shoot a low one and get myself back into it,' insists defending champion as composed Spieth moves up a gear
Old Man Par was not conceding much to the world's No 1 golfer, but Rory McIlroy promises to give him a right good thrashing in today's third round at the US PGA Championship in Whistling Straits, Wisconsin.
McIlroy is a man on a mission after adding a one-under-par 71 to his Thursday 71 for a miserly two-under-par halfway total.
This is not too shabby, considering his ankle ligament tear and a seven-week absence from competitive golf prior to Thursday's first 18 holes of this championship.
For McIlroy, it's not quite enough.
Dustin Justin set the mark at six-under on Thursday, and in the morning rounds yesterday, David Lingmerth, US-based and Swedish-born, moved that on a step to seven-under after scoring 70 in round two.
Of greater significance was Jordan Spieth's ascent up the leaderboard, filing a 67 to reach six-under and leaving him nicely poised for a strike for the summit over the next two days.
Spieth and McIlroy played alongside British Open champion Zach Johnson on a sweltering day of soaring temperatures that tested the concentration and stamina of even those players such as Texan Spieth who are accustomed to playing in the heat.
The 22-year-old American would have taken the money in that three-ball if it were a friendly game, as Zach's 75, 72 - three-over 147 - put his prospects of playing the weekend in jeopardy.
A 67 by Spieth to 71 for McIlroy is only a few shots' difference but given the Masters and US Open champion's class and hunger to add a third Major this season, the Northern Irishman does not want to fall too far behind the American, or anyone else.
"I felt like I played good in parts. I drove the ball pretty well again," McIlroy said.
"Maybe my iron play wasn't quite as good as it was yesterday and the greens that I did miss I wasn't very sharp around the greens.
"You're going to do that, you're going to miss greens around here. You're going to have to have more of a short game to be able to salvage par sometimes. I wasn't quite able to do that today at points.
"But there's still enough good stuff to give me encouragement and make me feel that I can shoot a low one tomorrow and get myself back into it."
Last year's British Open and PGA Championship winner was happy that his left ankle stood up to the demands of the first 36 holes.
McIlroy was more concerned about the chances he made and failed to convert, and a double-bogey on the par-4 18th hole, his ninth, was a body blow.
"Probably one of the most surprising things about yesterday (Thursday) is how quickly I got back into the mindset of tournament golf and being aggressive. So that was a nice surprise in some ways.
"That hasn't really been an issue. It's just being a bit more efficient, whenever you give yourself chances, take them, and be able to get it up and down when you put yourself out of position," he said.
He got out of position on the 18th, hitting his approach shot through the green into clingy rough at the back of the green.
McIlroy tried to finesse the ball a little too cosily to roll down the slope to the flagstick, and it came up well short. A three-putt from 50 feet turned a potential par or better opportunity from his fairway position after a fine drive into a double-bogey six.
"The second shot on 18 was definitely a reaction to the second shot yesterday, not wanting to miss it right, especially with that right pin. I just double-crossed it. Yeah, I was sort of in between clubs there, as well. I was trying to cut a three-iron.
"Maybe I should have hit a committed four-iron and hit it in the middle of the green and taken four.
"I felt like I played better than what the score reflected.
"I felt like I should have got that ball up and down on seven. And then I had a great chance on eight for birdie and didn't take that.
"A couple of days in a row where I haven't finished the round of golf the way I wanted to. I'm not annoyed, I don't feel that I should be annoyed, but just a little more disappointed with how I finished," he said.
McIlroy had a good recovery with an eagle three on the long second hole, his 11th, to make up for the double-bogey. He just could not find the extra momentum over the last six to push himself further up the leaderboard.
This daunting and spectacular Straits Course on the Whistling Straits complex was supposed to favour the long hitters.
McIlroy doesn't quite see it that way, and took note of the way Spieth, whose drives on average are 30-50 yards shorter than his, has worked his way around the course.
"I always thought this suited the longer hitters, and it does to some degree, but I feel like there's a lot of ways to get around this golf course.
"Jordan showed that over the last couple of days. He hasn't hit the ball miles, he hits it far enough, he's definitely above average in terms of length.
"But he's the prime example of someone whose game is very efficient, when he gives himself chances.
"Especially today he took them, and then when he got out of position he was able to get it up and down," said McIlroy.
Spieth showed that in style on the 18th when he pitched into the hole from a greenside bunker for a spectacular birdie, one of six he registered on his card. He only bogeyed one hole, the par-3 12th.
Spieth had the grace to admit he was not trying to hole that bunker shot on the 18th.
"We were thinking about playing ten feet out to the right just given my back swing. It had to be almost straight up and straight down. And the chances of hitting that the right way are so slim you could easily catch that thin and then you're left with a very likely double-bogey.
"I lined up a little to the right and as I took it back just tried to kind of cut across it a bit, I just struck it absolutely perfectly.
"It was sitting nicely on top of the sand, to where it was possible, but, no, I was not looking to make that. I would have taken four and walked off very, very happy guy," he said.
Spieth is not writing off McIlroy. "The rest of the week will tell," he said.
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