Strengthened by past reverses, McIlroy leads US PGA by one

Rory McIlroy 66 67 (-9)

  • Position - 1st 
  • Wozniacki break-up key:  "I think it has happened to me for the better... I've put a little bit more time into my golf and refocused in a way. It's the only thing I have, I've got my family and my friends, but I just immersed myself in my game."

Rory McIlroy revealed how the biggest professional and personal heartaches of his life were behind his sensational form after claiming the halfway lead in pursuit of a second Major title in four weeks in the US PGA Championship, writes the European Tour.

Looking to become the first player since Padraig Harrington in 2008 to win back-to-back Majors, McIlroy recovered from a slow start to card a second round of 67 at Valhalla.

Australian Jason Day carded a 65, the lowest round of the week, late in the day to finish a shot behind McIlroy alongside Jim Furyk, with Finland's Mikko Ilonen and Americans Rickie Fowler and Ryan Palmer another stroke back.

Phil Mickelson made an eagle on the 18th to lie three off the lead on six under alongside Austria's Bernd Wiesberger, while first round joint leader Lee Westwood carded a 72 to finish five under.

McIlroy's opening rounds of 66 and 67 matched those of Tiger Woods on his way to victory here in 2000, but 14 years on the 14-time Major winner suffered more back trouble and carded a second consecutive 74 to miss just his fourth cut in 66 Majors as a professional.

"I tried as hard as I could," said Woods, who revealed that his back started giving him trouble on the range but could not say when he will play again. "That's about all I got.  Unfortunately, just didn't play well.  So consequently a pair of 74s is not very good.

"As I said, it's not where the surgery was.  It's a different area.  When I fell out of that bunker last week, it's the same feeling, the same pain and same spasms...  I need to get stronger.  As I said the other day, I need to get my glutes strong again, my abs and my core back to where I used to have them.  They are just not quite there yet. Obviously by playing, you can't burn the candle at both ends.  I need to get stronger physically and be back to where I was."

McIlroy's 67 was his 12th successive sub-par score and a nine under par halfway total of 133 means he is a combined 41 under par for his last ten rounds, including victories in The Open Championship at Royal Liverpool and a first World Golf Championships event in the Bridgestone Invitational on Sunday.

The World Number One also won the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in May, just days after splitting from tennis star fiancee Caroline Wozniacki.

McIlroy has spoken before of making golf his number one priority since then, but also pointed to his collapse to a closing 80 in the 2011 Masters Tournament as the reason behind his subsequent success.

"I think I've had to learn to be a good front-runner," said McIlroy, who won his first two Majors by eight shots and led from start to finish at Royal Liverpool last month.

"I maybe wasn't quite comfortable in that position at the start of my career, especially 2011 in the Masters. I was four ahead and I wasn't quite comfortable in that position.

"It's taken me a couple of years to grow into that and my mindset has stayed the same since that day at Augusta. If I'm two ahead going into the weekend here, I'm going to try to get three ahead, and if I'm three ahead, I'm going to try to get four ahead.

"I'm just going to try to keep the pedal down and get as many ahead as possible. I went into protection mode once in my career and that did not work out very well so I said would never do it again."

Speaking about the change in his personal circumstances, McIlroy added: "I think it has happened to me for the better.

"I've put a little bit more time into my golf and refocused in a way. It's the only thing I have, I've got my family and my friends, but I just immersed myself in my game.

"I've practised hard and I've done all the right things and I'm reaping the rewards. Golf is the number one priority to me and while I'm on this run of form I want to try and keep it going as long as possible.

"I'm going to keep working hard and try and get even better. Hopefully I can do that over the next few years and hopefully you'll see golf like this more often from me."

McIlroy had not looked in top form in the early stages of his round, pushing his opening drive into the crowd on the par five tenth and failing to convert a birdie putt from ten feet, although a par was at least two shots better than he managed there on Thursday after hooking his second shot out of bounds.

Another birdie chance went begging on the 11th and the world number one then bogeyed the 12th, pulling his drive into the gallery and failing to get up and down from a greenside bunker.

McIlroy got back on track with birdies at the 13th and 15th and missed from six feet for another on the 16th after a towering four iron approach from 224 yards.

But he made amends by holing from 30 feet for an eagle on the 18th and could have had another on the seventh, missing from eight feet after a stunning three wood approach.

As if to emphasise a possible changing of the guard, his closing birdie on the ninth came just as former World Number One Woods began his second round on three over par.

"Do I expect to win? No. But do I expect to do the things that I know I can do and control? Yes. And I know that if I do those well, there's a good chance that I'll win," McIlroy added.

Shane Lowry 68 74 (Even)

  • Position - T53
  • One-hour delay, standing round in heavy rain draws Lowry ire: “I think to be honest, when we were playing the first hole, it was a joke, you couldn’t see the flight of the ball after 150 yards."

Shane Lowry felt it was “a joke” that play started in a torrential downpour on the second day of the US PGA Championship at Valhalla, according to agency reports.

Lowry was in the first group out at 7:30am local time but was unable to complete the opening hole before play was suspended.

And to make matters worse, the 27-year-old and playing partners Ryan Palmer and Bob Sowards were kept out on the course as officials believed the rain would clear quickly.

“I think to be honest, when we were playing the first hole, it was a joke, you couldn’t see the flight of the ball after 150 yards,” said Lowry, who bogeyed the first two holes and went on to add a 74 to his opening 68 to finish on level par to make the cut.

“I called the referee over and said it to him but he said ‘No, play on’. Then we were standing at the back of the first green for an hour, standing in the rain, nowhere to sit down, nothing to do.

“From there on it was just a grind for me all day. I’m obviously quite disappointed with the score I shot but it could have been a lot worse. I made a few par saves out there and my head was a bit off all day. The start that we had unsettled me a lot.”

The heavy rain also meant it was quite dark when play began and Lowry added: “It was their call and we had to deal with it. I feel like we should have been taken in. What was wrong with taking us in and starting an hour later?

“It was borderline playable. There was an element about it that if we were being picky, we could have said it was too dark.

“It set the tone for my whole day which was disappointing because, the golf I’m playing at the minute, I really felt I could go out there, shoot a decent score and put myself in a good position in to the weekend.”

Graeme McDowell 73 70 (+1)

  • Position: T69
  • Graeme McDowell made a crucial birdie at the 17th to make the cut on the number. Two iunder after seven holes and back to level for the championship, he bogeyed the ninth and 15th to leave himself outside the projected cut line before finishing birdie-par.

Missed cut (+1)

Padraig Harrington 73 71 (+2)

Playing with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, Harrington made an unlikely birdie from 30 feet after hooking his opening tee shot into the rough but then bogeyed the fifth (missed from 8 ft) and sixth (missed 4ft) to go to three over.

He birdied the ninth from eight feet to give himself a chance of making the cut but struggling to get any momentum with the putter, his back nine was a roller coaster.

While he followed bogeys at the 11th (missed green) and 14th (three putts from 36 ft) with birdies at the 12th (5ft) and 15th (33ft), a bogey at the 16th (drive into water hazard right) left him needing an eagle at the last.

He gave himself an outside chance from 23 feet but missed and a birdie for a 71 meant another frustrating week for the Dubliner, who also missed the cut in his only other major appearance this year at The Open. 

Darren Clarke 79 69 (+6)

Clarke saved the best for last with a 69 in the worst of the weather but paid the price for his opening 79.

The 2011 Open champion had six birdies and four bogeys on his card to miss the cut by five shots.