McIlroy a green giant at Augusta

Rory McIlroy has been impressive on the greens so far this week. Photo Eoin Clarke/www.golffile.ieRory McIlroy became the jolly green giant at Augusta after a brilliant second round putting display kept his quest for Masters revenge right on track.

The Holywood star, 22, used the blade like an assassin as he notched five birdies in a super 69 to trail early leaders Jason Dufner and Fred Couples by a shot on four under.

As injured Open champion Darren Clarke crashed out on 10 over after a nightmare 81, McIlroy had the green jacket still firmly in his sights as he shared third place with Louis Oosthuizen, Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia and Bubba Watson.

Delighted to build on his birdie-birdie finish to Thursday’s 71, McIlroy said: “It was nice to have a short gap between rounds and get straight back at it.

“Last night’s finish definitely put me in a positive frame of mind this morning.

“I came in here playing well and I just wanted to come and play and put myself in position to win another major.”

Determined to consign last year’s final round meltdown to history, McIlroy added: “I’m right where I want to be, only one off the lead going into the weekend and with a chance to put myself in with a position to win this tournament again.

“I couldn’t be more excited and I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”

McIlroy started solidly with a comfortable two putt par at the first before showing just how reliable he has become on the greens.

Bunkered in three at the par-five second, he splashed out six feet behind the cup and holed the putt with ease.

It wasn’t long before he went on the attack and after blasting a massive drive down the third, he hit a wedge to 14 feet below the hole and knocked home the putt to get into the red for the day.

The long par-three fourth caused massive problems for the field but McIlroy went left of the pin and rapped home a 35 footer for an unlikely birdie.

He then avoided a three-putt at the fifth with a nerveless six footer and sensationally got up and down brilliantly for par from just over the back of par-three sixth.

Firing on all cylinders now, the US Open champion holed a 15 footer for a birdie at the seventh to get to within a shot of the lead on four under.

He made his first mistake at the 10th, where he carved his second into the crowd right of the green.

But he safely negotiated Amen Corner and then two-putted the 13th for birdie to get back to four under.

Short-sided behind the right greenside bunker at the par-five 15th the Holywood star played a delicate pitch to eight feet and holed that too to grab a share of the lead on five under as arch-rival Lee Westwood double bogeyed the last to slip back to four under.

Believing he now has the patience to win more majors, McIlroy said: “I think in majors and especially here at this course you just have to play your way into it.

“I felt like I played my way into it last night and went out there this morning feeling a bit more comfortable and feeling like I could be a bit more aggressive.

“I holed a nice long putt on four and birdied the two par fives on the back nine which I thought was really important.”

Blocked out at the 17th, he cut his approach into a greenside bunker but failed with a seven footer for par before getting up and down brilliantly at the last.

Clarke confessed after Thursday’s 73 that he wasn’t looking forward to the second round after struggling with his putter and a groin injury.

And he got his wish as he crashed to a nightmare 81 as  52-year old former winner Fred Couples hit a 67 to share the lead with Dufner, who fired a 70.

Open champion Clarke, 43, had one birdie, seven bogeys and a double bogey six to finish on 10 over in his first Masters appearance for five years.

McIlroy was just two years old when Couples won his solitary major at the Masters in 1992.

There are 30 years between them, setting up what could be a fascinating generation game over the weekend.