Xander Schauffele took advantage of a second-round meltdown by Rory McIlroy to open up a five-shot lead at the halfway stage of the Travelers Championship on Friday.
Schauffele surged clear of the field after shooting a bogey-free seven-under-par 63 to move to 14 under at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Connecticut.
But while Schauffele reflected on a round that has set up a golden opportunity to claim a sixth PGA Tour win, overnight co-leader McIlroy was left pondering a dramatic stumble on the back nine that sent him tumbling down the leaderboard.
The Northern Ireland star had tamed the course on Thursday with a spectacular eight-under-par 62 to claim a share of the lead.
The 33-year-old four-time Major champion looked poised to tighten his grip on the lead after making six birdies over the first 11 holes of his second round to move to 13 under overall.
But McIlroy’s lead evaporated with a catastrophic quadruple-bogey eight on the par-four 12th that sent him back into the chasing pack.
After sending his tee shot into the treeline down the left of the fairway, McIlroy incurred a penalty and then sent his third shot into the right rough. His fourth landed in a greenside bunker and he took two more shots from there to reach the green.
McIlroy found more trouble on the 16th, plunking his third shot into the water to pick up a double-bogey.
Although he recovered with a birdie on the 16th, the damage had been done. McIlroy eventually carded a level-par 70.
“It’s golf sometimes, I think,” McIlroy said of his late stumble. “It sort of came out of the blue. I haven’t made a big number like that or couple big numbers like that in a long time.
“I put myself in a great position in this tournament and then just three bad swings have sort of cost me six shots.”
McIlroy maintained there was still plenty of time to resurrect his challenge over the weekend.
“I should be closer to the lead. Feel like I let a lot of guys into the golf tournament because of it,” he admitted.
“But it’s still only two rounds. There are two rounds left and a lot of golf left,” added McIlroy, who reached halfway at eight under for the tournament, six adrift of Schauffele.
Schauffele, meanwhile, is taking nothing for granted despite building a formidable cushion.
“It’s only Friday. We’ve got 36 more holes, and I need to stay aggressive,” Schauffele said. “This is a course that’s giving up some birdies, and if you’re leading the pack and you get kind of comfortable, people are going to hunt you down.”
A group of five players are lurking five shots behind Schauffele on nine under. That chasing pack includes Patrick Cantlay, Harris English, Nick Hardy, Kevin Kisner and Australia’s Cam Davis.
McIlroy, meanwhile, is among a cluster of nine players all on eight under.
That group includes first-round co-leader JT Poston, who like McIlroy shot a 70, and Scotland’s Martin Laird.
The four South Africans in the tournament – Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Dylan Frittelli, Garrick Higgo and Dawie van der Walt – all missed the cut.
© Agence France-Presse