Jordan Spieth jokingly called the grip change a move to the dark side, but If happiness is a long walk with a putter then Rory McIlroy was walking tallest at the Blue Monster last night.
Just 24 hours after a mediocre performance with the cack-handed style and only hours after former Ryder Cup skipper Paul McGinley said he was making too many mistakes and paying too much attention to what his rivals were doing, the former world No 1 made a major winner’s move in the WGC-Cadillac Championship, holing a 20 footer for birdie at the 18th for a stunning 65.
Having used the blade 33 times and single putted just four times in a 71 on Thursday, McIlroy overcame an early putting blip to run riot on the greens on Friday, running in eight birdies.
He loves nothing more than proving doubters wrong and this was yet another satisfying day for the four-time major winner.
A total of nine single putts in his first 12 holes, including five in a row from the fourth, saw him soar up the leaderboard en route to a 23-putt, seven under par round that eventually left him tied for second with defending champion Dustin Johnson (64), two shots behind leader Adam Scott (66) on eight under par.
“I stroked the ball well yesterday, I just struggled with the pace,” McIlroy said at the finish. “So I worked a little bit on pace last night. It was nice to birdie the 18th. I saw that Adam birdied the 17th to get to 10 under so i didn’t want to be too far behind going into the weekend.”
It was almost as if he had heard McGinley reiterate what he told the Irish Independent last October about his new habit of taking about his putting.
“The important thing for Rory is not to over-react to what (Jordan Spieth and Jason Day) are doing," McGinley said. "The important thing for him is not to try to be something, just because they are.”
McIlroy confessed that what stopped him changing to the left hand under style earlier was precisely his fear of comparison with world No 1 Jordan Spieth.
“It’s funny, I’ve been playing it around in my head a little bit about making the switch,” he said. "And the one thing that I was sort of worried about was the McIlroy copying Spieth. That was my big thing. That was the whole thing for me was that.”
McGinley also knows that McIlroy is a dogged competitor and the left hand under putting style worked a dream in the Florida sunshine though there was a moment of doubt early on before he outscored Spieth (69-72) by five shots over the first two days and Day (72-74) by 10.
Scott, who won last week’s Honda Classic, continued his good form with a six under 66 for a two shot lead over McIlroy and defending champion Dustin Johnson, who blasted an eight under 64.
But the big Irish story was McIlroy, who has clearly found confidence in his new cack-handed putting method.
After following a chip and putt birdie at the first by lipping out from four feet for par at the second, McIlroy crucially holed a seven footer for par at the fourth and he was off and running.
He birdied the next four holes in row, holing putts of seven feet, 14ft, five feet, and three feet to got five under par.
Out in 32, he then had to hole a seven footer for par at the 10th after bunkering his third and a nine footer for another momentum saving par at the 11th after a poor chip.
He then holed a 10 footer for birdie at the par-five 12th and a 25 footer at the par-three 15th to go six under for the day and tie for the lead with England’s Danny Willett, who ended the day alone in fourth on seven under after a 69.
"It was much better," McIlroy said of his putting. "I feel like I played similarly from tee-to-green. That really hasn't been the issue over the past few weeks. But the putter was really what was the big difference. You know, held a really good par putt on 4, and then I made four birdies in a row after that to sort of get the round going.
"There was a lot of big momentum putts in there that I had not been holing. So to see those drop today and to be as comfortable as I was, it feels really good, and obviously very happy with where I'm at going into the weekend."
In an example of his single-mindedness, McIlroy insisted he never doubted what he was doing for a moment.
"Even though I didn't hole as many putts yesterday, I didn't doubt what I was doing for one second," he said. "I knew that this was the right way forward for me. But of course, the emotions are slightly different; coming off the course and shooting 7-under to doubling the last last night and shooting 1-under, it's a bit different.
"Very comfortable with where it is and very happy with where it is. It was nice to make that putt on the last, because I had great chances on 16 and 17 to make birdies, and you know, I saw Adam got to 10-under par after 17, and I really wanted to make that putt on 18 just to try and stay with him going into the weekend.
"It was a great putt to finish with, and obviously gives me a lot of confidence going into the weekend."
Veteran Phil Mickelson (45) had cruised three clear of the field on nine under par after eight holes. But as McIlroy moved up a gear, the left-hander made mistakes, covering the back nine in 40 for a 72 that left him tied for seventh on five under.
If it was a great day on the greens for McIlroy, it was a frustrating one for Shane Lowry and Graeme McDowell. Both are feeling great about their games and their lives in general but they failed to get rewarded with the putter for some excellent play from tee to green.
Lowry bogeyed the ninth, his 18th, from the green side bunker and fell back to tied 29th on level par after a 73 while McDowell was smiling after a birdie-birdie-par finish for a 71 left him in joint 37th on one over.
“That’s probably the least I have ever got out of a round of golf,” Lowry said after a round featuring three bogeys and just two birdies. “I am playing great, so I am expecting a decent weekend.
“You know, I feel I am hitting great putts and the putter feels great in my hand. I feel like I am going to hole putts, they are just not going in.
“I was very disappointed to bogey the last to be level par for the tournament. If I’d made par, I’d have been happy at one under.”
Lowry’s frustration was summed up by the 18th, his ninth, where got a "mud ball" and his 192-yard approach from the centre of the fairway sailed so far right it ricocheted off the roof of a corporate tent right of the green and ended up near the practice putting green.
“For the front nine, I felt like I didn’t hit a bad shot and I was one over,” Lowry said, revealing he had to bite his lip after that shot following his bad language fine last Sunday.
“I put a good swing on it and it pitched on the grandstand. Hopefully things go the other way over the weekend.”
McDowell could not be happier with the way he is striking the ball but he was also frustrated on the greens, despite finishing birdies at the seventh and eighth.
“I hit the golf ball really really well,” McDowell said. “I got off to a slow start and then the last 13 or 14 holes I hit the ball beautifully.
“The putter has been eluding me slightly and I’ve hit a lot of great putts that haven’t gone in. It’s just been one of those days on the greens.”