McIlroy battles back from the brink

Rory McIlroy was hammered 8 and 7 by Ben Crane in the WGC-Accenture Match Play in Tucson little more than three years ago.

He was hit by a putting juggernaut that day but one couldn't help wondering if it was another example of the Holywood star throwing in the towel a little early.

Graeme McDowell did not want to rush to judgement, but he said enough:

"There's no doubt, to be the best Rory can be, he's got to develop that dogginess side to him. He's one of these guys that makes the game look so incredibly easy. It's an easy game to be positive and enjoy it when everything is going great. But how do you respond when things aren't going so well? I haven't played a lot with him competitively. It's tough to sit here and judge the guy. Like I say, I think he makes the game look unbelievably easy. Maybe he has to learn how to deal with the tough days and just grind it out."

At Sawgrass on Friday, McIlroy showed that he has certainly matured as a golfer. He went to the turn like a 12 handicapper, dropping six shots in five holes from the third to go out in 42.

Just when you thought he was heading for his fourth missed cut in five starts at TPC Sawgrass, he came home in 32 for a 74, bravely holing a 13 footer for birdie at the 18th to make the cut on the level par limit.

"I'm really proud of myself that I was able to do that," McIlroy said. "It's not the position I want to be in, battling back to make the cut, but at least I'm in for the weekend.

"At least there's good golf in there somewhere, and hopefully I can continue that into the weekend, what I showed on the back nine there today."

McIlroy is 12 strokes behind Martin Kaymer, who added a 69 to his opening 63 to lead by a shot on 12 under par from the hugely impressive Jordan Spieth (67-66).

As for McDowell, who played alongside the young American, the Portrush man is eight behind on four under after a 71 that ended with a frustrating three-putt bogey from 60 feet at the 18th.

I’m really proud of myself that I was able to do that
— Rory McIlroy

His frustration looked mild compared to McIlroy's after the 25-year old went bogey-bogey-bogey-double bogey-bogey to be six over after seven, then birdied the 12th, 13th and 16th and holed a tricky four footer for par at the 17th to go to the last needing a birdie three to make the cut.

Having hit just two fairways and two greens and had 17 putts on the front nine - he missed a three-footer for bogey at the sixth and a four footer for par at the seventh - he was transformed on the back nine.

Coming home he missed just one fairway and just one green — the 17th by a yard long left — and had just 13 putts.

After holing a seven footer for birdie at the 12th and another seven footer at the par-three 13th, he chipped to 18 inches to set up his birdie four at the 17th and then played the 18th in textbook fashion.

Opting for a draw with his driver, he bombed his tee shot 314 yards and hit a 164-yard wedge, downwind, to 13 feet and poured in the putt.

Having complained in Charlotte last week that he is not gaining much satisfaction from a string of backdoor top 10s this season, he was right to be proud of this performance.

Victory might be out of reach with 62 players between him and Kaymer. But if he can reproduce the textbook golf he played on the back nine, another backdoor Top-10 might taste quite sweet this time.

As for Darren Clarke, he added a 73 to his opening 76 to miss the cut by five shots.

The 2011 Open champion has made just four cuts from nine starts since he rejoined the PGA Tour this season.