After disastrous start, Rory McIlroy claws his way back at PGA

rory mcilroy John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

After disastrous start, Rory McIlroy claws his way back at PGA

Golf

After disastrous start, Rory McIlroy claws his way back at PGA

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FARMINGDALE, N.Y. – If bogeys were burgers, then Rory McIlroy’s scorecard early Friday morning at Bethpage Black started out looking like a family order at the In-N-Out drive-thru, with a couple of doubles and a single.

That left him 7-over-par through 21 holes of the PGA Championship, 14 strokes off the lead of Brooks Koepka and — more pressingly — four outside what appeared to be the likely cut line. But instead of gassing up his plane for a trip home, McIlroy fired up his putter, clawing his way into the weekend action at the PGA Championship.

“I was 4-over through three in Boston a couple years ago and ended up winning the tournament, and that just sort of came back into my mind after I made that start. In a way it’s calming,” he said. “I’ve been in this position before and I’ve been able to come back.”

“Back” is relative, of course. The two-time champion showed tremendous grit in making four birdies over his closing holes for a round of 71 — good enough to get back into the weekend but still far back of the glamorous end of the leaderboard.

The motivation behind McIlroy’s second nine fight was simple. “Pride,” he says. “Just pride. Just trying to play a good round of golf and try to get something that’s close to the best out of myself. I don’t like missing cuts. It’s not something that I’m used to fortunately, and I wanted to be around for the weekend. And at least if you’re around for the weekend, you can go out there and maybe shoot a good one tomorrow and at least give yourself half a chance.”

LEADERBOARD: 101st PGA Championship

Two clubs have blunted McIlroy’s bid to win a fifth major title this week and end a drought that stretches back to the 2014 PGA: the longest and shortest clubs in his bag. In Thursday’s first round he needed a woeful 35 putts on his way to a 72. He reduced that number by 8 in the second round only to see his driver consistently misfire. He hit only five fairways.

One of those misses came on his opening hole, the 10th, which is a lengthy journey from the Bethpage Black clubhouse that players make in SUVs. McIlroy pushed his tee shot into a fairway bunker and eventually signed for a double-bogey six. There were 55 bogeys, 14 double-bogeys and 1 “other” on that 10th hole in the first round, and another 30 bogeys (and four doubles) by lunchtime Friday. Those numbers are not unrelated to the drive time for players who start on 10, McIlroy believes.

“You go from the range and then you get in a car and you’re not hitting another shot for another 25 minutes,” he says. “So you feel like you could warm up again basically. That first tee shot is a little challenging for sure.”

Walking up the 18th fairway — his 9th hole — McIlroy turned to his caddie, Harry Diamond, and set a second-nine goal. “I said to Harry going up the 18th, ‘Let’s not shoot any worse than I shot yesterday. So let’s make 72 the worst score we’re going to shoot.’ It was nice to go one better than that.”

The resurrection came courtesy of four birdies on his last six holes. He sank putts of 12, 23 and 22 feet for three straight birdies from the 4th hole then added an 18-footer on the 8th. The circles on the scorecard brightened what had looked likely to be a grim day.

“It’s not as if I haven’t been in those positions before. It’s just a matter of not pressing too much and staying patient and letting the good golf sort of come through,” he says. “Took a while today, but it eventually got here.”


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