Rory McIlroy took advantage of the best of the weather to fire nine birdies in a second round 65 and move to within two shots of leader Adam Scott in the Emirates Australian Open.
Scott had yet to tee off when McIlroy joined him at the top on 10 under par but the Masters champion, could not reproduce the fireworks of the course record 62 he shot on Thursday and a 70 left him only two in front of the Holywood man on 12 under. Leaderboard
The Masters champion - who is going for the triple crown of Australian PGA, Masters and Open titles - opened his afternoon round ominously for McIlroy.
He birdied the 300 yard first by driving the green to regain the lead on 11 under before picking up another shot at the third to lead by two.
But with the weather deteriorating, he faltered in the end, carding a two under 70 to lead by two from McIlroy on 12 under par.
“It was going to be a day where you just have to hang on, try and hit as many good shots as possible,” Scott said afer a round featuring seven birdies, three bogeys and a double bogey at his fourth hole.
“I hit lots of good ones, I made lots of birdies, but there were bogeys out there easy to come by today if you were just slightly off — and I think probably most score cards would have looked similar this afternoon.”
McIlroy was pleased he’d done his job by taking advantage of advantageous early conditions - perfect greens, softened by light rain and caressed by no more than a gentle breeze.
“I played well, and putted much better this morning,” said McIlroy, who had three three-putts in his opening 69 but took just 24 putts in the second round.
Having said after day one, “it is hard to give Adam Scott a seven-shot lead”, the former world No 1 was in more optimistic mood after his morning fireworks.
“It feels good. It felt good out there this morning. I think we got a little lucky though with the weather forecast. The weather wasn’t as bad as we thought it was going to be this morning. The wind didn’t really pick up so we could sort of take advantage of that. The greens were a little softer as well because of the rain.
“But yeah, it feels good, I played well, putted much better today than I did yesterday too, so that was a big positive. I’m in a great position going into the weekend.
“It would have been very easy for me to get frustrated yesterday and I was getting a little frustrated because I bogeyed 10 and 11 to go back to even par and I’m thinking to myself: I’m 10 behind, not just 10 behind anyone, I’m 10 behind Scotty.
“I think it was big. I played my last seven holes last night at three under par. But yeah, when you see someone like that at the top of the leaderboard already with a low score, it’s tough not to think about it.
“It’s tough not to sort of press the issue and try and make birdies to catch up with them right away but golf tournaments are long, they’re four days, 72 holes and there’s a lot of time to chip away at those leads. You saw with me in 2010 [LAUGHS] it can evaporate very quickly.”
Starting on the back nine, the 24-year old birdied 13th, 15th and 16th before giving back a shot at the difficult par-three 17th hole after he missed the green and could not get up and down from the right side.
The then hit a trademark iron to three feet to set up a birdie at the 18th and turn in 32 before coming back in 33 with four more birdies against a lone bogey at the par-four fourth.
Explaining who difficult his season had been in terms of momentum, McIlroy added: “I was saying it’s all mental. When you get on a run of events where you play well, your mindset going into tournaments is going under par, winning, getting onto the top of the leaderboard as soon as possible and when you’re not playing so well it’s a bit different. You’re hoping to get on the leaderboard, you’re hoping to do well, where you’re not really expecting to.
“In terms of my game, I’m hitting the ball well, I feel like my short game’s pretty sharp. I putted much better today. Still a couple of things in my swing I feel like I need to address in the off season but for the time being it feels good.”
Set for a weekend showdown with Scott, he’s confident he can give the world No 2 a good game, joking: “I feel like I have the game to do that as long as he doesn’t get too far ahead today [LAUGHS] and I’m within striking distance going into the weekend. Yeah, I feel like I can shoot a couple more scores similar to today and have a great chance.”
As it turned out, Scott followed those two early birdies with five more. He also double bogeyed the fourth and bogeyed the fifth, 15th and 17th.
Australia’s Richard Green also made a charge, firing a hole in one at the sixth in a 66 that left him in provisional share of third on nine under.
“It was a flush golf shot,” said Green, whose eight-iron shot rode left-to-right on the breeze, landed 10 feet short of the flag and popped in.
The crowds will be hoping for a McIlroy-Scott showdown at the weekend and green knows it’s going to be tough.
“I’m going to have to play the golf of my life to keep up with them,” he said.
Green added he had not seen such big crowds at the Australian Open “since Greg Norman’s heyday.”