RORY McIlroy failed to repeat the fireworks of his first 65, but he brilliantly crawled for pars on the last three holes to keep alive his hopes of a fifth Major at the PGA Championship in Southern Hills.
The Holywood star missed a golden opportunity to break away from the field when he fell short of second and seventh places, although the wind that made it difficult for the morning starters to score goals eased in the afternoon.
Playing his final 11 holes in the one-under, he still has work to do after a birdie on the 12th with brilliant par saves on the 16th, 17th and 18th for a one-over 71 to his nearly eight-year-old End of wait for a fifth Major win but thinks he can pull it off.
“It wasn’t the easiest day for me. I certainly didn’t play as well as yesterday, but I persevered and fought well,” said McIlroy, who was one of just three players to underperform by shooting a round over par yesterday .
“I did some good ups and downs when I had to. I might have taken a few more chances that I gave myself in the back nine, but overall it was a day I could have missed and I could have shot 73 or 74 and really climbed a big hill have to.”
At four under par, he ties fifth with Mexican Abraham Ancer and 25-year-old Korn Ferry Tour graduate Davis Riley, five shots behind Will Zlatoris.
The former Wake Forest phenom, who has yet to win a PGA Tour event but already has four top-10 finishes in six major starts, carded a bogey-free seven-under 65 to go nine-under par in one shot leading from another ball-hitting machine in Chilean Mito Pereira (27), who shot 64.
With temperatures set to drop over the weekend and wind forecasts shifting direction, the 79 players who made the cut with a four-over – including Tiger Woods, who has a three-over after a gusty 69 – see themselves one whole today compared to other Southern Hills.
McIlroy indicated he doesn’t expect Zulatoris or his closest challenger Pereira to keep it going under a lot of pressure.
“The two guys at the top of the leaderboard are brand new to that position,” McIlroy said. “They obviously played very well but I thought the three ups and downs on the last three holes were important just to keep me within a few strokes.
“It’s still a great position going into the weekend. There is a lot of golf to play and we will see a completely different golf course than the last few days.
“The wind will be from a completely opposite direction, so it’s going to be a different test for everyone and everyone has to adapt to that.”
McIlroy may not see Zulatoris or Pareira as the men to beat, but rather Justin Thomas, who shot two 67s from the hard side of the draw to sit alone in third place with six under.
Another great champion, two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson is fourth in solo after making nine birdies in a brilliant 63 to lose Zatoris with four shots on five-under.
Seamus Power is the second-best Irishman, tied for 23rd after a 69 in his first sub-70 round in a major.
Like Shane Lowry, who is 11 off the pace with a two-over after a 72, both men will need rounds in their 60s to have a chance tomorrow.
Pádraig Harrington doesn’t think it’s a chasing course given the rough and well defended greens.
“It’s an easier course to golf patiently,” said the Dubliner, who potted just one putt outside of six feet all week as he followed his opening 77 with a 75 to complete the four-over. Cut to miss eight shots.
“If you hit 15 to 20 feet on each green and roll putts to birdie, you’re going to pot a few holes.
“But if you’re looking for those pins, you’re going to miss a few, and if you miss and find those bunkers, you’re going to have trouble getting up and down.”
Harrington returns to senior golf next week for the second senior major of the season, the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship at Michigan’s Harbor Shores Resort.
But he doesn’t think his game is bad, despite the result in Tulsa.
“Nothing went my way, that’s it,” he said. “I don’t see anything in my game that I’m dissatisfied with. I putted well but never pocketed a putt. On the first round I think I potted a four foot for a par and everything else was less than two foot. They have a hole, some putts.
“Maybe it wasn’t the best start ever. Taking six on the second hole yesterday didn’t help. I certainly wouldn’t read anything into the week itself.
“You’re going to get weeks like this, and hopefully I’ll get better weeks. Nothing went wrong with me. That was it. There is nothing to fix.”
Lowry will play KH Lee of South Korea at 4.20pm (Irish time) today, while Power is drawn against Cameron Tringale at 5.50pm.
McIlroy is out with Ancer in the third from last group at 7.30pm, just ahead of Thomas and Watson before leaders Pereira and Zalatoris tee off at 7.50pm Irish time.
https://www.independent.ie/sport/golf/rory-mcilroy-bullish-about-great-position-despite-slow-friday-theres-a-lot-of-golf-to-play-41673292.html Rory McIlroy upbeat about ‘great position’ despite weak Friday: ‘There’s a lot of golf to play’