There were enough reasons to doubt whether Jason Day could win back-to-back US PGA Championships – namely a pre-tournament rush to hospital with his wife, a mild bout of illness for Day himself, the failure to play a single practice hole at Baltusrol before Wednesday and, in round two, the playing of his first seven holes in two over par. Day was drifting.
What followed was almost like cruelty from Day towards Rory McIlroy, his playing partner who was enduring such a turbulent time on the greens that he must have felt like snapping his putter over one knee. The world No1 recorded seven birdies in eight holes, signed for a 65 and is two off the nine-under-par lead with half this tournament played.
Putting was the key element; Day holed out from positions that barely seemed feasible, surely intensifying McIlroy’s despondency therein. Day even had the luxury of playing the closing two holes, both par-fives, in level.
For McIlroy the possibility of making the cut vanished on the 18th as he mis-hit a chip from rough to the right of the green. His major victory wait, dating back to this event in 2014, continues. He will now need to refocus for the FedEx Cup series, with the Ryder Cup to follow.
Jimmy Walker and Robert Streb are currently the men to catch. Walker had history in his grasp, with the lowest ever major 36-hole total of 129 available if he were to play the last three holes in one under par.
In the event he could fare no better than one over on that stretch for a 66 to sit alongside his 65 of the first day. Streb matched the lowest score of 63 in a major, which included the playing of the front nine in 30.
Consecutive 67s in this US PGA Championship mean Henrik Stenson has had six sub-70 major rounds in a row. Since the start of 2013 the 40-year-old is an aggregate of 39 under par in golf’s quartet of prime individual events. The most pertinent factor in respect of this tournament is surely psychological rather than statistical. Stenson’s breaking down of the major door, finally, in the Open at Royal Troon earlier this month has removed a mental barrier.
“You’re going to feel a bit more self-confident and trusting of yourself that you can do it again if you’ve done it once,” Stenson said. “I guess that’s natural and I do feel that.
“I can’t guarantee that it’s going to happen again if I’m in a similar situation. But at least you’ve got the belief that you can do it.”
Stenson’s continuing brilliance owes everything to accuracy. In his last seven major rounds he has averaged more than 80% of greens in regulation.
The three-wood he hit into the 18th at Baltusrol on Friday, from 259yds and leaving a tap-in eagle, was the shot of this tournament so far. It summed up Stenson’s current touch.
The obvious question surrounds whether fatigue will kick in or, as Stenson dreams, he can see this major through as well. “That [tiredness] is not something I’m concerned about,” said Stenson.
At three under Jordan Spieth is also a part of this US PGA narrative. Spieth even survived a rules scare at the 7th, where he was granted relief from casual water but appeared to have his foot in a puddle when playing his subsequent shot. Whereas it was suggested Spieth therefore had not taken full relief and could be punished, the 23-year-old and tournament officials were content with what process had been followed. Briefly thoughts had turned towards the rules farce which overshadowed Dustin Johnson’s win at the US Open last month.
“I would have never hit if I was nottold it was OK by a rules official,” Spieth said. “He told me it was fine. I really don’t know why we are talking about it, to be honest.”
The PGA of America verified this. “Jordan was entitled to play the ball as it lay, even if his stance was still in the casual water,” said the tournament organisers.
Johnson’s run of 25 cuts made in a row came to an unceremonious end. A second round of 72 made a Friday starting point of seven over even worse.
Others to search for an early flight home included Sergio García, Shane Lowry and Graeme McDowell. Lowry cut an especially downbeat figure after his 73, with the Irishman hoping to make a run for a Ryder Cup place. Lowry has not seemed to recover from falling short at the US Open, where he held a four-shot lead with 18 holes to play.
“It just feels like I’m getting nothing out of my golf at the minute,” he said.
“I feel like I’m driving well, feel like my iron play is good, feel like my short game is good enough and I feel good on the greens. And I’m five over par.
“There’s not much more I can say. I’m not particularly enjoying my golf at the minute.”
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