McIlroy teed off early and held a three-shot lead when he finished, but the afternoon wave is still on the golf course and Brendon de Jonge is making a charge. [*Update: de Jonge dropped back to -10 total, one behind Rory.]
“It wasn’t the start that I wanted to get off to,” said McIlroy in his post-round presser. “It was just a slow start. Just struggled to sort of find my rhythm the first few holes. I mean, I had a good warmup on the range and everything, but just had a couple of loose drives. Once you get yourself out of position on this golf course, it’s very easy to make bogeys.
“So wasn’t the way I wanted to start, but I stayed patient, made a couple of good birdies before the end of the front nine and then played really, really good on the back, and held a couple of really nice putts. To be 11under par after two days on this golf course is a good effort.”
Rory remains mentally positive and his golf is speaking for itself — he appears relaxed and he’s swinging effortlessly and beautifully.
“It’s different end of the spectrum (compared to a year ago),” he said. “I wasn’t quite comfortable with my golf swing. I was still tinkering with equipment. It wasn’t I just wasn’t feeling in control of, you know, what I needed to be in control of.
“This year is obviously a lot different. Got off to a good start; I’m confident; I’m playing well. This is the second straight tournament I’ve opened with a 63. So if I can keep building on these good starts, then hopefully I can start converting.”
In fact, the Rory that showed up (and didn’t walk off the course) this week kind of resembles a more mature version of the kid who notched his second major at the 2012 PGA Championship. The last time Rory felt this comfortable with his game was over a year ago.
“Probably since the Playoffs in 2012,” he said. “I felt very comfortable then after the PGA, and then Deutsche Bank, BMW, that’s when it was automatic. Then I started to get into a couple of bad habits, didn’t play so well in THE TOUR Championship but still played well in The Ryder Cup and into Dubai but probably September of 2012 since I felt as comfortable as this.”
Toothache? What toothache? A year ago, McIlroy abruptly and infamously walked off the golf course, citing a “toothache.”
That’s all in the past now, though. Rory’s matured emotionally on and off the golf course.
“I think it’s just a sign of a little more maturity, as well, not really trying to force the issue or press, because I’ve made a couple of bogeys early,” he said. “Just stay patient and realize, you know,72-hole golf tournaments, it’s inevitable that you’re going to make some bogeys in there, get yourself out of position.
“And I knew I had not like I was thinking ahead so much, but I knew I had some opportunities coming up. I had the two par-5s which were reachable, a couple of short par-4s.
“I knew that with the way I’m playing and the confident in my ability, I would be able to get those shots back. I didn’t panic. I didn’t try to do anything different. Just tried to keep playing the way I was.”
The key to Rory’s success so far at PGA National has been his solid putting. He only needed 25 putts in the first round and 24 today. Last week at the Match Play, he worked with his short game coach, Dave Stockton, whom Rory hadn’t seen since Tiger’s tournament in December.
“We tweaked a couple of things,” said McIlroy. “All of a sudden yesterday it started to feel very, very come for table.
“Green speeds here, you can be aggressive with them. I don’t feel like the putts really can get away from you that much. So you can really get the ball rolling at the hole.
“So, yeah, I mean, I’m confident and –49 putts — that’s the lowest putting totals after 36 I’ve probably had, maybe in my career. So it’s obviously going in the right direction.”
Meanwhile, Phil Mickelson is going the opposite direction. Mickelson shot scores of 70-71 for a one-over total, which currently puts him one shot outside the cut line.
Fire up the jet!
“I drove the ball well.,” he said “I mean, I hit 75 percent of my fairways. That’s a good thing for me. I’m starting to drive the ball well. What I normally do well on my iron play was distance control was off, it just wasn’t sharp, and I didn’t putt as well as I had expected. I made I didn’t put bad but I didn’t putt great.”
Phil doesn’t think he has a shot at playing this weekend — at least not PGA National.
“Even (par) has a chance but (the cut) could go to 1-under,” he said. “No, I won’t make the cut.”
Tiger Woods is one-over total at the moment. He has seven holes to play, but he also might be making an early exit. Good news is that it’s an easy commute home for him.
(Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports)