Rory McIlroy had his strut back again; and, when that happens, he tends to do really good things on the golf course. Case in point, the second round of the Memorial tournament where he put the sour taste of a finishing triple-bogey in his opening round to one side to put in an impressive display of shot-making and strategy to sign for a 68 for a mid-way total of four-under-par 140 at the notoriously difficult Muirfield Village in Dublin, Ohio.
What the well-crafted scorecard of six birdies and two bogeys did was to move the Northern Irish man right into the mix in his search for a first win on the PGA Tour this season, as the world number three’s move left him well-positioned — three strokes behind clubhouse leader Hideki Matsuyama — heading into the weekend at the $20 million (€19.7 million) designated event.
McIlroy’s round was more like his old self, as he started on the 10th with a birdie from 6ft and, for the most part, kept his foot on the pedal in progressing up the leaderboard. A bogey on the Par 3 12th where he found a rear greenside bunker was followed by back-to-back birdies on the 14th (from 6ft) and the 15th (from 9ft, playing a great shot from a greenside bunker).
His second bogey of the round came on the Par 5 fifth hole where his strategy for once was misguided. Opting to lay up, when the green was within his reach in two, he proceed to play a sloppy approach that missed the green left and he failed to get up and down. However, he bounced back with finishing birdies on the seventh (from 3ft) and the Par 3 eighth (from 14ft).
Bringing his mind back to that closing triple bogey on Thursday, McIlroy claimed: “I got one bad break with that ball finishing on the bank of the bunker, so I really feel like I’m one shot out of leading this golf tournament … I felt like I did a lot of really good things [in the first round] and I did a lot of good things right. So I can’t let that one unlucky break hide the fact that everything else was working pretty well.”
In the second round, McIlroy played fine golf to move his way into contention with the six-birdie haul, even mitigated by the two bogeys, showing that the work on his swing is reaping dividends. There is still some work left, for sure, but he is headed in the right direction.
As McIlroy put it: “This is a process that will take [time]. The swings I make on the range compared to the swings I make out [on the course], they’re not the same. They won’t match up for a while, so it is just a matter of working little by little, trying to do it every day that the feel becomes more and more comfortable so that over time it beds in itself.”
McIlroy has his eye on this tournament — and the possibility of a handshake from tournament host Jack Nicklaus walking off the 18th green on Sunday night — but has some catching up still to do if he is to achieve that target, with past champions Matsuyama and Patrick Cantlay again showing their likeness for Jack’s place.
In the Mizuho Americas Open, a new tournament on the LPGA Tour taking place at Liberty National in New Jersey, Leona Maguire showed great character to produce two birdies in her closing three holes to sign for a second round 70 to reach the mid-point on three-under-par 141, four shots adrift of clubhouse leaders Minjee Lee and Cheyenne Knight.
On the DP World Tour, Belfast teenager Tom McKibbin produced a brilliant second-round 69 for a mid-way total of three-under-par 141 to lie in a share of second place just one stroke behind leader Maximillian Kieffer in the Porsche European Open in Hamburg, Germany.
And on the Challenge Tour, Dubliner Niall Kearney added a 69 to his opening 67 for eight-under-par 136 to be one stroke behind leader Casey Jarvis in the Czech Challenge in Kacov.