GUYANCOURT, France – Rory McIlroy lightened up a dreary Friday in France with a 5-under 66 to find the top of the leaderboard in the second round of the 100th French Open at Le Golf National.
Coming off a missed cut at the U.S. Open at Oakmont, the World No. 4 had little expectations coming into this week. McIlroy simply opted to use the trip to France as a way to work on some changes to his swing that he uncovered with swing coach Michael Bannon on the practice range on U.S. Open Friday.
From 17 swing thoughts to now four or five, McIlroy was never concerned about a score this Friday, more freewheeling it on the difficult driving, but soft, Le Golf National layout.
“It’s good, It doesn’t feel very natural at the minute,” McIlroy said of a swing that was five shots lower than Thursday. “It’s quite mechanical and there’s a lot going on in terms of what I’m trying to do. But it feels good. It’s in a good groove. I’m concentrating a lot on it. I feel like if I set myself up well with alignment and everything, if I make a good swing, it goes where it should.”
With just a bogey at the last after driving the ball into the water, McIlroy’s day proved stellar despite limited success off the tee. McIlroy, 27, hit an OK nine fairways, but found 14 of 18 greens and only required 27 putts to record his best round on the European Tour since a 65 in the final round at the Dubai Desert Classic in February.
“A little disappointed with my finish at the last but I can’t let that change what was a really good day,” McIlroy said. “I played very well. I didn’t really put a foot wrong until 18. Hopefully I’m going to continue to do that.”
McIlroy has been known to tinker with his game. In March, he experimented with a left-hand-low putting grip before the Masters, and would go on to win the Irish Open in May. However, he cited his ballstriking, not his putting, for the victory. When he returned to the U.S. four weeks ago for the Memorial Tournament, he reverted to a conventional putting stroke.
On the back nine Friday at Le Golf National, McIlroy left a birdie putt on the edge of the hole on the par-4 15th and then hit the edge of the cup on another birdie putt at the par-3 16th.
But overall, the flatstick has felt comfortable to McIlroy this week.
“Felt like I putted nicely,” McIlroy concluded. “Still a couple of putts that didn’t quite drop but it felt good out there. I need two more days like that over the weekend to have a chance and try to win. But I’ve put myself in a good position.”
Now after 36 holes, the Northern Irishman is tied at 5 under with Jeunghun Wang from Korea, Brandon Stone of South Africa, Mikko Illonen from Finland and Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand. Despite his top position McIlroy isn’t changing his laid-back approach. but he does admit if he is in a similar situation come Sunday, he may have to change his strategy.
“Of course you want to know where you are, but at the same time, I think it’s just a nice distraction to have sometimes if you’re in the heat of battle just to really focus on what you’re doing,” McIlroy said of his likely approach on Sunday if in contention. “Because as I said, it sort of takes the result out of it a little bit.”