Rory McIlroy sets high bar with dazzling Players Championship second round

Rory McIlroy’s demeanour meant he didn’t need emphatic language to explain his Friday lunchtime emotion. He offered it anyway.

The Northern Irishman admitted to being “disappointed” and “frustrated” with the outcome of his second round of the Players Championship. Moments earlier, he had signed for a 64, an eight stroke improvement on Thursday.

And yet, McIlroy’s annoyance was understandable. Standing just 90 yards from the pin at the par five ninth hole, his last, McIlroy harboured legitimate hope of the birdie which would have created a record score of 62 at Sawgrass. For the first, only but key time in an otherwise exhilarating round, things took a turn for the worse. McIlroy sent a wedge shot into the bank of a bunker, played out poorly and could score no better than six. His disgust was instantly apparent.

“I was thinking about it, I wanted to make birdie and shoot 62,” McIlroy said. “There’s no doubt about that.

“I’m disappointed but there’s still two more days to go. That’s the nice thing, I’m in a good position heading into the weekend.”

McIlroy’s love affair with the bank nine at Sawgrass is such that a Friday starting point of 10th tee always had potential to catapult the Northern Irishman towards the business end of the Players Championship.

It did that alright. By the time McIlroy reached the turn, his 29 shots had matched the tournament record as set by Shane Lowry on Thursday. That run had included converted putts from 26ft at the 1oth, 53ft at the 16th and a 49ft effort for birdie at the iconic 17th which slid agonisingly past.

As McIlroy picked up another shot, at the 2nd, the first ever 62 in competitive play at Sawgrass was live. He made birdie again at the 7th, from seven feet. The 27-year-old’s slip came later, disappointingly for all onlookers but primarily for McIlroy himself given all that had come before.

McIlroy’s nine hole aggregates here are quite astonishing. Before this round, he had played the inward half in an aggregate of 37 under par over four years. The front nine has caused him considerably more annoyance, with 13 over the total score over the same period. More pertinently in context of 2016, there is a stand-out McIlroy statistic of no victories.

The dynamic of the tournament was altered by the arrival of electric storms late on Friday afternoon, which triggered a two-hour delay. Jason Day, the leader, and Jordan Spieth, who was engulfed in a battle to make the cut, will therefore have to complete their second rounds early on Saturday morning.

Adam Scott bounced back superbly from the closing hole eight which ruined his first round. The Australian, a former champion here, produced a Friday 65 to move to six under. Sergio García’s 66 meant the same 36-hole total. García’s second day featured just six pars.

Colt Knost, who has disappeared from view since becoming US amateur champion in 2007, joined McIlroy in a bittersweet morning scenario. His 63, which included a stunning front nine of 31, was an obvious source of delight but the 30-year-old missed from four feet on the 18th. This three-putt ensured the only bogey of Knost’s round and denied him the making of history.

“I was nervous on the four or five-footer, however far it was but honestly I hit a good putt,” Knost said. “I hit it on the left edge and it just stayed there and lipped out. There was a little thought in my head that I could do something nobody has ever done around here.

“This was still a great day. Yes, it was a disappointing finish but I can’t dwell on that too much.”

Boo Weekley is another who has slipped from a previously prominent position in the golfing narrative but remains a consistent performer on the PGA Tour. Weekley signed for a Friday 69, moving him to nine under par, before showing his propensity for the unorthodox hasn’t vanished.

The clean-shaven Weekley was asked about the recent removal of a substantial beard. His answer? “I was down at the beach fishing, throwing my catch net. The first time it snatched a bunch of my hairs out. And I said: ‘Gosh darn, that kind of hurt.’ So I said: ‘I’ll try it again and make sure I don’t put my chin down there on it.’

“I threw it again and it snatched a bunch more out. And I said: ‘This is done with this.’ So I just walked back in from the pier, back in my condo, and I just took the clippers out and shaved it all off.”

Weekley added that it “depends what day it is” in response to whether he is a better fisherman than golfer. In continuing extroverted post-round media duties, the 42-year-old was probed on whether he agreed with McIlroy and Rickie Fowler donning unorthodox clothing during the first round. “Who am I?” Weekley asked. “The fashion police? I don’t care.”

In this form, it is great to have McIlroy back. There’s something appealing about Weekley’s return as well.

Powered by article was written by Ewan Murray at Sawgrass, for The Guardian on Friday 13th May 2016 23.32 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010