McIlroy and McDowell show true grit at Doral
Rory McIlroy hit just five fairways but still managed a battling 74 on the Blue Monster at Trump National Doral on Friday. Picture: Fran Caffrey

Rory McIlroy hit just five fairways but still managed a battling 74 on the Blue Monster at Trump National Doral on Friday. Picture: Fran Caffrey

A brutal Blue Monster took a chunk out of the best players in the world but Ireland’s Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy showed they have the right stuff as they survived the carnage to keep their hopes very much alive in the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Trump National Doral.

McDowell carded the joint second best round on a day of north winds that gusted to 36 mph, grinding out a one under par 71 to share fifth place with McIlroy (74), Francesco Molinari and Welshman Jamie Donaldson on level par, just one stroke behind leaders Patrick Reed (75), Dustin Johnson (74), Matt Kuchar (74) and Hunter Mahan (74).

It was a tough test for McIlroy, who twice visited water and ran up two bogeys and a double bogey in outward nine of 40 blows before battening down the hatches with a homeward 34 for a superb 74 that was only matched by Donaldson, who posted a best of the day 70.

The young Ulsterman is clearly becoming more resilient all the time and while he failed in the final round of the Honda Classic last week, his 74 yesterday was arguably his round of the year.

Rory McIlroy. Picture: Fran Caffrey

Rory McIlroy. Picture: Fran Caffrey

"It was just, it was a grind the whole day," McIlroy said. "The wind was up, and this course is very exposed. It's not like you can get much protection from it.  And any wayward shot would find water or find a bunker.  It was tough out there.  

"I was really pleased with how I played the back nine.  I just hung in there, made a couple of birdies and finished the day off strongly which is great, and only one behind going into the weekend. So can't really ask for much more."

McIlroy completed his first round early in the morning, carding a two under 70 to share eighth place.

But the wind rose after lunch and he started by hitting his approach in the water right of the first, penciling in a bogey six.

Another shot went at the fourth, where he was bunkered, before he double bogeyed the seventh with another ball in the water to turn in four over 40.

A birdie at the 11th got him back on track and he when he hit his tee shot to less than two feet at the par-three 13th, he was back in the mix. Despite a bogey at the 14th, he rebounded with a chip and putt birdie at the driveable 16th.

"It was very tough.  Whenever you've got the wind like this on a links course or whatever, you can play the ball along the ground; whereas here, you can't really do that. 

"You've got to fly bunkers.  You've got to land it on greens and it just makes it that much more difficult.  So we were sort of comparing it to something, and it's maybe not quite as bad as the second round at Kiawah a couple years ago, but it was up there.

"It wasn't the start that I wanted.  I bogeyed the first hole and I played the par fives at one-over par today, which you know, they are the holes that in this sort of wind, you're trying to take advantage of and maybe scrape a couple birdies out of. 

"I fought back well. I hit a couple of really, really good shots on the back nine to set up birdies. I just hung in there and I'm proud of myself of how I hung in there all day and stayed patient.

"I knew the scoring wasn't going to be exceptional today, so I knew anything around even par was going to have a good chance going into the weekend.

"It was a day where you obviously couldn't win the golf tournament, but you could let it get away from you and you could rack up a few big numbers and play yourself out of contention, so I was very pleased just to play the back nine how I did, dig in, shoot a couple under par and be right there for the weekend. 

"So it's good position to be in and I couldn't really ask for much more."

Rory McIroy escapes from one of the many bunkers at the Blue Monster. Picture: Fran Caffrey

Rory McIroy escapes from one of the many bunkers at the Blue Monster. Picture: Fran Caffrey

Co-leader Kuchar described the course as a survival test and McIlroy did not disagree 

"Yeah, it was, it was all about surviving, trying to make as many pars as you could and if you could sneak out a few birdies here or there, then that was great.  It's just the nature of the conditions, how this golf course is, how it was set up. 

"Was the setup fair?  I think they could have pushed a couple of more tees forward.  Like Phil, [Mickelson, 74-75 +5] for instance, hit a great drive up the fairway in two and was in the bunker and plugged in the face.  I had one in the seventh and couldn't carry the cross bunker there and we are two of the longest hitters out here.  I don't know if it wasn't fair, but I think they could have set it up a little gentler in some places." 

The backdrop to the quotes area was more like the Wall of Lamentations as the majority of the best players in the world limped off the Blue Monster licking their wounds .

The highest single-day scoring average on the PGA Tour last year was 75.373 in the second round of The Open at Muirfield but it was 76 yesterday as firm greens and treacherous breezes sent scores soaring and balls slipping down shaved banks into ponds - 113 balls ended up in the water in round two.

“That was a tough golf course today,” said world number one Tiger Woods after he had added a 73 to his first round 78 to finish the day tied for 25th on five over par.

“I don't think that we expected the golf course to be that hard that fast, but it kept getting quicker and quicker.  

"I think it was just some of the pin locations were a little bit on the edgy side because of the wind directions. It was just impossible to get the ball close.

Tiger Woods is just six shots off the lead despite rounds of 76 and 73. Picture: Fran Caffrey

Tiger Woods is just six shots off the lead despite rounds of 76 and 73. Picture: Fran Caffrey

“I think when we made the turn, there were nine guys under par, and I was only two, so basically, you've just got to hang around.  You just never know. We've all got a shot at it now. No one is going anywhere.”

Woods put three balls in the water himself as he dropped five shots in the middle of his round. But two opening birdies at the 10th and 11th, followed by two more late in his round, helped him end up inside the top 30 on five over par.

While he refused to call the golf course unfair, Woods questioned some of the pin positions in winds that gusted well over 30 mph at times. 

“I think some of the guys will be probably pretty upset about some of the pins.  But if they were in better spots, I think they would have been fine.”

The highlight of Woods round was a 92-foot birdie putt at the par-three fourth — he was 11 shots off the lead before that — but when asked to sum the day, one word sufficed: “Tough.”

Reed was simply delighted to get in with a 75, explaining: “It was one of those days that the wind was blowing so hard, greens are starting to get crusty and fast and firm, and just seemed like the ball never would really settle on the green.

“I don't think I've ever seen the wind blow so hard.  The last time I played in wind like that was in Baton Rouge during [Hurricane] Katrina.”

Co-leader Mahan spoke at length in the press centre but summed up his day best with one tweet: "I'm spent."