Rory soars into lead as Lowry left to face nervy wait
Rory McIlroy produced an electrifying finish to hit the front as Seamus Power caught fire and Shane Lowry suffered a painful reverse in The Player Championship at Sawgrass.
As Lowry missed the cut to turn what looked like a certain return to the Masters into what could be an anxious fortnight before the March 31 qualifying cut-off, McIlroy fired an exhilarating, seven-under 65 to snatch a share of the lead with Tommy Fleetwood, who shot 67.
It was a mature performance by the Co Down man, who has recorded five top-six finishes so far this season without making it into the winner's enclosure. But he looks like a man on a mission after he overcame a slow start and surged through the field, covering his last 11 holes in seven-under par to lead by three shots with Fleetwood from Jim Furyk (64), Ian Poulter (66), Brian Harman (69) and Abraham Ancer (66) on 12-under-par
Level par for the day through seven holes after a bogey-birdie start, McIlroy came to life when he made a 10-footer for a two at the 235-yard eighth, then birdied three of the next four holes to get to nine under.
Even after "stalling" with three pars, he brushed in a nine-footer for eagle at the 16th and made a 20-footer for a two at the 17th before cutting a remarkable approach off pine straw to just 20 feet at the 18th to set up an easy par.
It was also a brilliant day for Power, who was four-over after opening with a double-bogey six at the 10th following a visit to the trees.
But despite missing nine of 11 cuts this season, he dug deep and made seven birdies in his next 13 holes before recovering from a bogey at his 15th with a birdie four at the ninth.
The West Waterford man eventually signed for a five-under 67 to make the one-under cut with two shots to spare. But it was another tough week for Lowry, who was far from his best from tee to green and seeking a birdie at the 18th, found water and made a double-bogey instead, adding a two-over 74 to his opening 73 to finish on three-over.
The Offaly man (31) won the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in January to leap to 41st in the world and looked odds on return to Augusta National for the first time since 2017 with the top 50 after the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play on March 31 exempt for the Masters.
After two recent missed cuts, he was 45th in the world starting this week, and he could find himself 48th or 49th on Monday, making the World Golf Championship in Texas an critical week for him as he sits out next week's Valspar Championship.
It was also a disappointing Friday for Tiger Woods, who dumped two balls in the lake at the punishing island green 17th and made a quadruple bogey seven en route to a 71 that left him nine strokes behind Fleetwood on three-under par.
"I just need to go out there and put it together this weekend, because right now, literally anybody who makes the cut has got a chance to win this tournament," Woods said.
On the European Tour, Galgorm Castle's Michael Hoey and Ardglass' Cormac Sharvin are ten strokes behind Louis de Jager at halfway in Magical Kenya Open in Nairobi.
The South African made seven birdies in a five-under 66 to lead by four strokes on 12-under par from Jack Singh Brar and Spaniard Adri Arnaus at Karen Country Club.
Sharvin added a level par 71 to his opening 69 to remain at two-under before being joined in a share of 23rd by Hoey, who posted a 74
Mount Juliet's Gavin Moynihan missed the cut by a shot for the second week running, carding a 73 to finish on three-over par. Portmarnock Links' Robin Dawson improved by 15 strokes on his first round 83 and showed his potential when he made six birdies in a three-under 68 to finish on nine-over.
On the Symetra Tour, Leona Maguire caught fire over the finishing holes to open with a four-under 68 in the Florida's Natural Charity Classic in Florida.
She was one-over with six holes to play but birdied the 13th,14th and 15th before finishing with an eagle three at the Country Club of Winter Haven to finish her day tied for seventh, three shots behind Canada's Maude-Aimee Leblanc.
- Kenya Open, Live, Sky Sports, 8.0am
- The Players Championship, Live, Sky Sports, 5.0pm