Rory McIlroy fired the low round of the day at the Tour Championship with a five-under 65 in the second round of the Tour Championship, vaulting him to a tie for second at the halfway mark.
However, he did encounter a bit of drama on the 14th hole that could have killed the momentum he had going on the back nine. After hitting an errant tee shot, McIlroy’s tee ball bounced off a tree and somehow literally landed in a spectator’s pocket.
“It hit up on the tree and ricocheted straight into his pocket,” said McIlroy.
While the rules of golf state you must play the ball as it lies, it does provide exceptions for exigent circumstances. In this case, Rory had to put a tee down where the fan, who hadn’t moved, was standing and then take a drop to the nearest point.
At this point, the ball was still in the guy’s pocket, but Rory wasn’t about to retrieve it himself.
“I wasn’t going in there,” said McIlroy, laughing. “I know how sweaty my pockets are. I’m not going into anyone else’s.”
Luckily, he didn’t have to — the fan handed over the ball, though somewhat reluctantly.
From there, the world no. 1 knocked his approach shot onto the green to 20 feet and two-putted for a routine par.
McIlroy acknowledged that while the incident was peculiar, he caught a break and felt lucky it didn’t come to rest in a bad spot per se.
“I was happy,” he said. “That ball could have hit the tree and went anywhere and I just felt fortunate I was able to drop it there and make a par.”
Funny enough, this isn’t the first time this year that McIlroy’s hit an errant shot, which has found a strange resting spot. In July at the Scottish Open, Rory knocked a tee ball into a guy’s pants leg.
“I just need to stop hitting it off line and these things won’t happen,” he said matter-of-factly.
Well, he’s definitely had a good run with the driver this summer, but he admitted he’s not hitting it quite as well as he was a month ago when he went on his major-WGC-major win stretch.
“Not quite as good as I was about a month ago,” he said. “Whether that’s just to do with how much golf I’ve played and maybe a few sort of tired swings in there.
“But I’m still driving the ball well. I wouldn’t say I’m driving it as good as I was driving it in Akron and the PGA. But I’m still driving it good enough to give myself a chance to win this tournament.”
McIlroy grinded it out in the first round at East Lake, posting a scrappy 1-under 69. He said on Thursday that he found “something” with his swing toward the end of his round. Well, it appeared to carry over to Friday.
“Great warmup on the range, and from the first tee shot I felt a lot more comfortable out there,” he said. “I was comfortable with my swing, comfortable with the shape I was hitting the ball. I still hit a few missed shots out there, but nowhere as many as I did yesterday.”
McIlroy finished strong, rolling in a 19-footer on 17 and a 27-footer on 18 to close with back-to-back birdies.
“I holed a couple of really big par putts on 16 the last couple days and then followed both of those up with birdies on 17, so that really helped,” he said. “And then the birdie on 18 was a bonus today. I wasn’t expecting it to go in, I was just trying to get it somewhere up around the hole. It was a pretty tricky putt. But to see it fall in and get to 6under par is great.”
With the fantastic summer McIlroy has had — capturing three consecutive titles with the Open Championship, the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and the PGA Championship — there’s not as much pressure for him to finish his year strong by winning the Tour Championship and the FedExCup. It’d be nice, of course, but it certainly doesn’t bear as much pressure as it might for most players in the field.
“I’m going into this weekend I feel with nothing to lose,” he said. “I’m the one that’s got the two majors this year. I’m the one that’s had the great season. Those are the guys that are trying to cap off a great season for themselves.
“No matter what happens over the weekend, it’s going to be okay. I mean, I just want to, I feel finish my season off the way I feel like I should and the way I feel like it deserves to be finished off. So I’m not putting too much pressure on myself because it’s already been a great year. But I still want to win this thing.”
Well, he’s in good position to do just that, trailing 36-hole leader Billy Horschel by two strokes.