Rory McIlroy could be without his close friend Graeme McDowell on the PGA Tour next season with the Portrush man confessing last night that he is not ruling out a return to Europe in 2012 to concentrate on making the Ryder Cup team.
The Holywood star clawed his way onto the fringes of contention at Firestone Country Club hen he birdied the last for a second successive 68 that left him just four shots behind pace-setters Adam Scott, Rickie Fowler, Ryan Moore and Keegan Bradley on four under par.
But after a second round 72 left McDowell 11 shots behind the leaders on three over, the 32-year old revealed that he is keeping an open mind about whether or not to retain his PGA Tour membership next term.
Insisting he will wait and see how the FedEx Cup schedule affects him this year, McDowell said: “We’ll see how the Ryder Cup qualifying format works and how the FedEx Cup works out and I’ve had time to reflect and see how I feel.
“Next year is a Ryder Cup year, so we’ll see. I’m not saying I’m definitely not going to play on PGA Tour. All I am saying is that I am going to suck it and see. At this point my schedule hasn’t changed. I want to play the FedEx and see how that goes.”
McDowell joined the US Tour following his US Open win last year but is waiting to see how he adjusts to his new schedule and the vagaries of the FedEx Cup series before making a decision on 2012.
Making the Ryder Cup team is a huge priority for Europe’s match winning hero at Celtic Manor and he wants to make sure he gives himself the best chance possible of qualifying for a side that will see the top five from the European Points List joined the next five from the World Points list and two captains picks.
McIlroy is “95 percent” certain to join the US Tour next year but for now he’s concentrating on trying to win his first World Golf Championship, despite struggling to read the greens.
The 22-year old US Open champion opened with a birdie from two feet at the first but bogeyed the par-five second to slip back to two under before a frustrating run of 10 successive pars.
However, he holed a 14 footer for birdie at the 13th to get within five of the lead, saved par from 10 feet after overshooting the 17th and then birdied the last from 11 feet for his second successive 68.
Frustrated on the greens, he said: “I’m only four off the lead at the end of the day. It’s so bunched, that’s nothing, really.
“I’ve said this every day this week that it would be great to get into contention and be great to have a chance to win this weekend. It’s hard to really treat this as a preparation tournament because it’s such a big event”
The Ryder Cup is far from McIlroy’s mind right now but it remains to be seen if he is proved correct in his prediction that Tiger Woods will do well to finish in the top 20 here in his first start since taking 12 weeks off to recuperate from knee and Achilles injuries.
The former world number one sounded almost relieved to shoot a two under 68 in Thursday’s first round and despite firing a one-over par 71 in yesterday’s second round, he was upbeat about the state of his game ahead of next week’s US PGA date with Padraig Harrington and Davis Love.
“I know my stats don’t show it, but just the way I’m driving the golf ball, the start lines are so much tighter, and the shape of the shots are so much tighter,” said Woods, who is seven shots behind Scott (70) and American trio Fowler (64), Moore (66) and Bradley (65). “I’m so close to putting the ball on a string, so it’s coming.”
Question marks still remain over Woods’ ability as a putter and those doubts re-emerged yesterday as he took 32 putts on the greens, missing from 18 inches for par early in his round.
McDowell’s driving let him down in the first round but while he drove it well yesterday, he hit his irons poorly and racked up five bogeys against just three birdies.
“I drove the ball well today which was my weakness yesterday so it was the opposite today,” said the Ulsterman, who is 85th in the FedEx Cup standings.
“It’s a golf course where you can go low and where you can be aggressive with your irons but you have to drive it well, and you can make a score as Adam showed in shooting a 62 yesterday.
“But it’s hard now not to be thinking about next week. The PGA was in the back on my mind at the start of the week and now it’s in the forefront. These last two days are about competitive practice for next week.”