Sport Golf

Thursday 22 March 2018

Shane Lowry and Rory McIlroy in hunt at Players Championship after brilliant day for Irish pair

Shane Lowry hits his tee shot to the sixth hole during his second round at Sawgrass. Photo: Jason Getz/USA Today Sports
Shane Lowry hits his tee shot to the sixth hole during his second round at Sawgrass. Photo: Jason Getz/USA Today Sports

William S Callahan

Morning glory for Rory McIlroy with a 64 and afternoon delight for Shane Lowry who carried his first round momentum into day two and shot 68 to set the clubhouse lead at 11-under par.

That was the situation in The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass, a tournament which yielded a birdie-fest for the competitors in the first half of the day, and also produced the first hole-in-one at the famous par-3 17th since Miguel Angel Jiminez achieved that feat in 2002.

Will Wilcox, 29, a journeyman pro from Birmingham, Alabama, thrilled the galleries with his ace at the iconic 17th.

Leader Jason Day had moved from his starting 9-under par, to -12 after eight holes before play halted for two hours due to the threat of lightning.

Lowry, playing five holes ahead of Day, was having an adventurous round at that stage.

The Offalyman, who started at the 10th hole, bogeyed the infamous par-3 17th, but followed that up with an eagle two on the 18th, his ninth, and birdied the second hole, his 11th, to reach -9 with seven holes to play.

Rory McIlroy surged into contention at Sawgrass (AP)
Rory McIlroy surged into contention at Sawgrass (AP)

The enforced break did not affect Lowry, who pushed on to 11-under after 15 holes. His only mistake came on his final hole, the par-5 9th where he found sand in three, but got up and down to save the par.

Day, however, found his rhythm with two consecutive birdies at 13 and 14 to lie three ahead of Lowry on 14 under as the light closed in and he will complete his second round this morning.

McIlroy's 64 which included a sublime 29 on the back nine - his outward half as he started at the 10th - indicated the world number three is coming into his best form just in time for next week's Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at The K Club.

McIlroy in birdie-hunting mode is exciting, and though he erred on the 9th hole, his 18th, where he took a bogey six, he remains in contention for the title at eight-under par. He also joined Lowry in the record books.

Lowry played the course the right way round on Thursday and shot seven-under par 29 on the back nine, making him the first player to break 30 for holes 10 through 18.

Yesterday McIlroy emulated Lowry's feat, but on his front nine.

The European number one could have pushed on to further glory, as he was nine-under par on the tee of the par-5 9th hole, his 18th.

A par there, and McIlroy would become only the seventh player to shoot 63 on this course, while birdie and 62 meant sole possession of the course record.

Once his tee shot left the ball safely on the fairway, 291 yards from the tee, a buzz of excitement spread through the galleries.

And then McIlroy surprisingly went into defensive mode, laying up to 90 yards.

He under-hit his wedge approach, leaving it short of the green in a bank. Shot number four dribbled the ball onto the green, and two putts later he signed for 64.

At eight-under, he was two adrift of the Jonas Blixt and Alex Cejka who each shot 65 for 10-under par to lie one shot behind Lowry.

Afterwards, McIlroy explained his thought process to Sky Sports.

"It was in my head with the ninth hole that any time I have went for the green it hasn't really worked out well for me.

"Maybe if I had to have it back, I might go for the green again, but it was in my head, 'just try and take my chances from a hundred yards, try and get it up and down.'

"I just under hit the first one and left myself in a difficult position

"It would have been great to get that four at the last, but to be able to take advantage of the course when I needed to, that was nice, and 64 is still a great score. Hopefully I'm not going to be too far behind going into the weekend,"he said.

Conditions favoured the morning wave of players for the second day of the tournament. The greens were holding, and it was time to plunder birdies.

McIlroy did that as well as anybody, and better than most, as was evident by five birdies and an eagle three on his front nine.

The eagle came on the par-5 16th, his seventh hole, where he putted from the fringe 50 feet from the hole and canned it.

Graeme McDowell, playing his first tournament since the RBC Heritage four weeks ago where he missed the cut, shot a solid 70 for two-under par.

McDowell also started on the 10th tee and on that nine he had four birdies and two bogeys.

The front nine yielded just one birdie, a four on the par-5 second hole, his 12th, which was cancelled out by a bogey five on the sixth.

Padraig Harrington followed up his opening level par 72 with a 74 which left him facing the cut for the second successive week.

Meanwhile, Ireland's Gary Hurley shot 63 (-8) in the Challenge Tour's Montechhia Open in Padova, to lie just a shot adrift of leader Alex Bjork. Ruaidhri McGee (66) and Kevin Phelan (66), who play the Irish Open next week, are on five-under.

The event is being played over 54 holes after Thursday's first round was cancelled due to torrential rain.

AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open

Live, Sky Sports 4 9.30am

The Players Championship

Live, Sky Sports 4, 7.00pm

Irish Independent

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