It’s hard to rag on an eight-under 64 at TPC Sawgrass (or really anywhere for that matter), but if you bogey your last hole of the day, which happens to be a par-5, and your name is Rory McIlroy, then it’s quite understandable. As the world no. 3 approached the podium to speak to the press, he certainly didn’t exhibit the body language of a player who had just shot his career-best at The Players.
“Look, I knew that the course was going to play much easier than it did yesterday afternoon,” said McIlroy. “This course really does play so much differently from morning to afternoon. You have seen what the guys did yesterday morning, you’ve seen what a few of the guys did this morning, you can almost feel it as the day goes on, as your round progresses in the morning.
“Like I felt the greens getting a little firmer, the wind gets up a little bit, so you have to take advantage of your tee time in the morning. And thankfully I was able to do that today with a low one.
“But it could have been a couple lower, but it’s still, it’s a great round and it moves me up the leaderboard and hopefully I’m just not too far away going into the weekend.”
McIlroy continued his love affair with the back nine at TPC Sawgrass. He started hot (on no. 10), rolling off four straight birdies to kick off his round and then adding another birdie and an eagle to shoot 29 on the back nine, tying the record set a day earlier by Shane Lowry. He only needed nine putts on the first nine, including a chip-in on no. 16.
Rory McIlroy in @THEPLAYERSChamp last 4 years:
+13 on front 9
-37 on back 9
50-shot difference in relation to par
— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGC) May 12, 2016
The real test for McIlroy started as he made the turn to the front nine. Could he keep his hot hand going? Could he break the course record? He was certainly on pace and more than capable. As he headed to the 9th tee, he was nine-under and needed a birdie to achieve what no player has ever done before at this event. He hit a beautiful 3-wood to the right side of the fairway. Though he likely would have been able to reach the green in two, he somewhat curiously chose to lay up.
“Any time I went for the ninth green in two here I’ve either hit the trees in the left or I’ve hit it sort of out to the right into those grassy mounds that Pete Dye loves,” said McIlroy, who only needed 22 putts on Friday. “And it just has never really worked out for me when I went for the green.
“So I sort of talked myself out of it on the fairway. And I laid up and thought, I’ll take my chances from inside a hundred yards from the fairway. And it was a tough, if anything, I might have left myself a little bit too close. It was a tough shot with it being downwind and the pin so tight. I was trying to get really sort of cute with it, I guess, and I just hit it too easy.”
He went on to explain that equipment played a role in his decision, too.
“That was really the dilemma, what’s the best way, best chance for me to make birdie here? Is it by going for the green and I’m carrying a 2-iron this week instead of my usual 5-wood. Maybe if I had the 5-wood in the bag, I might have went for it, because at least I could have got a little bit more height.
“But I was thinking about it, I wanted to make birdie and shoot 62. There’s no doubt about that.”
Laying up wasn’t per se the bad decision. He left himself with 80s yards and hit a terrible wedge shot — which is a part of his game he’s struggled with as of late — and missed the green, leaving him with an awkward chip.
McIlroy also expressed his frustration with the way he finished.
“Disappointment,” he said. “I’m frustrated. It should have been a couple better. Instead of being two behind the lead, I feel like I should be tied for the lead.
“I’m disappointed, but there’s still two more days to go. But that’s the nice thing, I’m in a good position heading into the weekend, but it really depends on what the guys do this afternoon, because there’s so many guys that went low and the course will play a little bit tougher this afternoon, but hopefully I’m still not too far behind going into the weekend.”
McIlroy is eight-under through 36 holes and currently trails leader Jason Day, who is still on the course, by four strokes.