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 was a fair enough score for the way I played.”
The cut was projected to fall at even par, leaving players such as four-times winner Tiger Woods and 2011 champion Keegan Bradley with ground to make up if they are to advance. Woods, tournament rusty after having surgery in late March to treat a pinched nerve in his back, and Bradley both struggled to opening 74s on Thursday.
Anirban Lahiri grinded it out for a one-over 72 on a warm and muggy opening day to give himself a decent chance of making the halfway cut at the 96th PGA Championships golf. The 27-year-old Bangalorean, who drove the ball well and found more than half the fairways missed a lot of greens in regulation and putted less than satisfactorily. Lahiri was tied 79th after first round and would need a sub-par round to make sure he stays on for weekend action at the Valhalla Golf Club which is playing to 7,458 yards but that was counter balanced with the somewhat soft and receptive greens.
Lahiri, despite struggling on the greens, scrambled well to make pars, of which he had 16. After starting on the tenth, his big mistake of the day came on the 16th, where he double bogeyed and his lone birdie of the day came on the seventh, where he made up for a terrible pitch which he left short with a fine putt. “It was a struggle out there. I just could not get my putts to fall. I was leaving them short and I didn’t have a great day with the irons. Having said that I am happy that I held things together for a 72. I didn’t allow frustration or disappointment to get the better of me,” he added. (PTI)