Rory McIlroy stayed in the hunt for a third consecutive victory on the PGA Tour, seizing the outright lead with an eagle at the par-five 18th in the weather-hit second round of the PGA Championship Friday. British Open champion McIlroy, the pre-tournament favourite heading into the year’s final major, holed out from 30 feet just off the front edge of the green to cover his outward nine in three-under-par 33. That left him two strokes in front of the chasing pack at eight under overall, with Americans Steve Stricker, Ryan Palmer and Kevin Chappell, and England’s former world number one Lee Westwood tied for second.
Swedish world number four Henrik Stenson was three strokes off the pace, having covered his first 10 holes in level par. McIlroy had made a scrappy start at a rain-sodden Valhalla Golf Club where play was suspended for 45 minutes earlier in the day. He struggled for accuracy off the tee and dropped a shot at the 12th where he found a bunker with his approach.
However, the 25-year-old Northern Irishman swiftly responded by sinking a 12-footer at the 13th and a 16-footer at the 15th to get to six under. Though he squandered another birdie chance at the 16th, where he missed an eight-foot putt, he reached the turn in spectacular style with his eagle on 18.
Veteran Stricker, who has played a limited schedule on the PGA Tour for the past two years, surged into contention with four birdies on his front nine, capped by a 30-foot putt at the 17th. Out in four-under 32, Stricker then parred the 10th to remain at six under for the tournament, level with Palmer, who was even for the day after 14 holes. The players faced the prospect of a marathon ‘stop-start-stop-start’ day at Valhalla with further thunderstorms expected and up to an inch-and-a-half of rain forecast for Friday.
Play was initially halted 45 minutes before McIlroy was set to start the second round, having opened with a five-under-par 66 on Thursday to sit one stroke off the pace. Westwood, Chappell and Palmer led the year’s final major after firing six-under 65s in the first round, though both Westwood and Chappell were among the late starters on Friday.
“I played well, hit a lot fairways, putted nicely,” former world number one Westwood told reporters after racking up a total of nine birdies, one bogey and a double on a challenging 7,458-yard layout offset by soft and receptive greens.
“I gave myself a lot of chances. All in all, there were no real weaknesses out there. I hit a lot of quality iron shots, and it felt like 65 continued…