Rory McIlroy says three clutch closing-par saves have kept him in PGA Championship contention.
The four-time Major winner from Northern Ireland, who led after a first-round 65, fired a one-over-par 71 to finish the day fifth on four-under-par 136, five strokes back of US leader Will Zalatoris.
“Those three par savers were key to me to staying just that bit closer to the lead,” McIlroy said. “I thought those par saves on 16, 17 and 18 were very important.”
After bogeys at the 2nd and 7th dropped him off the pace, McIlroy managed his only birdie with a 10-foot putt at the par-four 12th but then made solid finishing saves.
McIlroy pitched inside four feet and made the par putt at 16, chipped within three feet to set up a par at 17 and blasted out of a bunker at the 18th to four feet to make a par.
“It doesn’t really feel like I’ve got such a mountain to climb as if I had maybe dropped one or two over those last three holes,” McIlroy said.
“It was not really giving myself enough realistic chances for birdies … I didn’t put myself in position off the tee enough to get my approach where it needed to be.”
McIlroy welcomed an overnight storm expected to shift wind direction for the weekend and change conditions for everyone.
“Maybe a couple guys might have seen the golf course in a northerly wind, but for the most part everyone is going to have to adapt,” he said. “It’s just going to play much differently and that makes it very interesting.”
McIlroy said it wasn’t the pressure of shooting his best Major first round in 11 years getting to him that led to the 71.
“I committed to the gameplan pretty well. I felt pretty relaxed out there,” he said. “I wouldn’t say it was nerves. You’re not going to go out and shoot 65 every day. Maybe it was a case I wasn’t maybe quite as committed or aggressive as I was yesterday.”
McIlroy was also impressed with playing partner Tiger Woods, who ground out a 69 to make the cut on 143 despite severe leg injuries suffered in a car crash 15 months ago. McIlroy called Woods making the cut at The Masters last month and again Friday “just unbelievable”.
“Incredibly resilient and mentally tough,” McIlroy said of Woods. “He’s feeling it on every swing, but to see what he did on that back nine … look, he’s the ultimate pro.”
Seeing Woods wince in pain Thursday, McIlroy said: “If that would have been me, I’d have been considering pulling out and just going home, but Tiger is different and it was just a monumental effort.”
© Agence France-Presse