After missing the cut the past three years, McIlroy is firmly in the mix at Pebble Beach after rebounding from a mini meltdown on the back nine Friday with back-to-back birdies that gave him his second straight round in the 60s. McIlroy shot a 2-under 69 to reach 5 under, tied for fourth place, four strokes behind leader Gary Woodland.
Since winning his only US Open title at Congressional in 2011, McIlroy had shot in the 60s in just two rounds over his past seven appearances, missing the cut the past three years.
But he has carried the momentum from his closing round 61 that gave him a win at the Canadian Open last week with a good start at Pebble as he seeks his fifth career major but first since 2014.
“Coming off the back of a win last week and having another win this year, as well, and just the consistency that I’ve shown, it’s the best I’ve felt about my game in a while for sure,” McIlroy said.
It showed with his ability to rebound on the back nine on Friday. Feeling good at 6 under through 12 holes, McIlroy took a chance to go for the back right of the green with his second shot at the par-4 instead of playing it safe for the middle. He missed in the bunker and ended up with a bogey.
“I felt like I could squeeze a couple more out of the round, the last couple of holes and maybe get the lead going into the weekend,” he said. “I bogeyed that, which is fine, you’re going to make some bogeys around here.”
But then things got much worse at the par-5 14th hole when he drove into the rough, then had his third shot roll back off the green when he shot it too far right trying to avoid the rough. His pitch landed short in the bunker and he eventually two-putted for a double-bogey 7.
“That didn’t go to plan,” he said. “It just sort of compounded the error with another error, which you never really want to do.”
But after hitting his tee shot into the bunker on 15, McIlroy saved his day by hitting a 9-iron within 5 feet to set up the birdie. He added another on the 16th when he chipped in from just off the green.
“Mentally I’ve been pretty good this week,” he said. “I wasn’t as disciplined as I needed to be on a couple of those holes on the back nine, but I bounced back from that, which was a really good sign. And look, it’s not going to be easy over the weekend, you’re going to make bogeys, you’re going to make mistakes, it’s going to happen. And if I can keep responding to those mistakes like I did today I’ll be right there.”
McIlroy then closed out his round with a pair of pars and is in good shape heading into the weekend.
So instead of heading home, McIlroy was looking forward to unwinding and preparing for his final two rounds.
“There’s no basketball or hockey to watch anymore. I’ve got two episodes of Billions to catch up on, so I might have to do that,” he said. “But, yeah, that’s really it. We’ve had room service like four of the last five nights so might maybe venture into Carmel and have dinner there. But that’s really it. Just sort of think about anything else but this.”