Rory McIlroy bounced back from his “flat” opening 73 with a three under 69 but he still finished the day 10 shots behind leader Bubba Watson in the WGC-Cadillac Championship at the TPC Blue Monster.
The world No 1 began the day tied for 35th on one over but he moved up just seven places to 28th alongside Graeme McDowell (67) despite firing an eagle and five birdies on a day when Bubba Watson blasted a 10 under 62 to lead by a shot from Justin Rose on 12 under par.
“I got off to a good start and couldn’t quite keep it going, but felt like I played some good shots out there,” said McIlroy, who started eagle-birdie before playing the remaining 16 holes in level par. “Just didn’t hole many putts.”
McDowell was also in the mood as he carded an eagle, five birdies and two bogeys in a super 67. But left-hander Watson was on fire as he carded an eagle, nine birdies and just one bogey in his 62 to threaten the course record 61 set by Stephen Ames 12 years ago.
Rose had an immaculate, eight under 64 alongside Watson and their betterball of 59 left Mark Wilson scratching his head as he completed their threeball with what looked like a very ordinary, two under 70.
“I said to him, dude, you must be a bit black and blue,” Rose joked afterwards. “He probably feels like he’s played terribly today, and he’s come off two‑under.”
McIlroy eagled the first and birdied the second from three feet each time to get to two under for the tournament but while he recovered from bogeys at the third and fifth with birdies at the 10th, 12th, he mixed birdies at the 16th and 17th with bogeys at the 14th and 18th to finish well off the pace.
“There was a 62 out there obviously,” McIlroy said. “After the start, I felt something in the low 60s definitely was out there. Bubba shot that and there was a couple 64s out there as well.
“But it was still windy out there. It’s not like it was flat calm. The guys seemed to go very low here for some reason and I’ll need to go very low for the weekend to try and post a good finish.”
Luke Donald can steal back his world No 1 ranking from McIlroy with a victory here but while he shot a 68, the Englishman was still six shots off the pace on six under and tied for 10th.
Joint overnight leader Adam Scott posted a 68 to sit alone in third place, two shots off the pace on 10 under with Anders Hansen (65) in solo fourth on eight under and Thomas Bjorn (68) and US PGA champion Keegan Bradley (67) tied for fifth on eight under.
Tiger Woods made a move but while he kept a bogey off as he posted a 67, he was still seven adrift of Watson and tied for 13th on five under.
“This is the highest score I could have shot today for sure,” said Woods, who had little luck on the greens despite taking just 28 putts. “It could have been pretty low today.”
Darren Clarke cut a forlorn figure after a second successive 74 left him near the back of the elite field on four over.
He has been in limbo since he won The Open last July with his best finish in a full field event a share of 35th in last September’s Omega European Masters in Switzerland.
“He’s very happy with how he’s playing but he’s in one of those cycles where he is not playing that bad but good things just aren’t happening,” said Clarke’s former coach Butch Harmon.
“The days when you really hit it well, you don’t make the putts and the days you don’t make the putts you just hit it ordinary. It’s frustrating for him because he has worked very hard on his game. But I think he is one round away from confidence.”
Phil Mickelson (71) and world No 3 Lee Westwood (67) finished the day 11 shots off the pace on one-under.