As ever where Rory McIlroy is concerned, there was a lot going on. But after adding a second round of three-under par 69 to his opening 76, the four-time major champion will be around for the weekend at Wentworth and the second half of the BMW PGA Championship. Only just though. At one-over par, McIIroy is 12 shots behind the halfway leaders, Jon Rahm and Danny Willett.
Needing no more than a five on the 523-yard closing hole, McIlroy made things a little more difficult than they needed to be. After a perfect drive, he badly pushed his approach, the ball finishing on a bare lie with rough and a deep bunker between him and the flag. Only by hitting the pin or holing a long putt could he possibly make birdie from such a spot.
There was, however, margin to spare. After a long look at the leaderboard by the green, McIlroy determined he was in 57th place. With the leading 65 and ties making the cut, he knew for sure that a par would see him through.
“I just tried to get the ball on the green, two-putt and get out of there,” he said after holing from four feet for that vital par. “I wasn’t going to try anything heroic. It was was a good putt to hole to make the weekend, I made a good positive stroke and the ball went right in the middle.”
Indeed, McIlroy’s bigger problems over the last two days were, unusually for him, occurring far from the hole. After two weeks away from his clubs, the Northern Irishman returned to find his alignment off-kilter. As he aimed more and more to the left of his targets, the more his club dripped under the correct plane on the downswing. The result? Big misses both left and right.
“I hit balls for two hours yesterday after I played,” he continued. “Then again for 90 minutes before I played today. But it’s hard when your alignment is off. I can trust it on the range but out on the course is a different story. I hit a few loose ones but it was better.”
The good news was that McIlroy’s much-analyzed short game showed up to save his two days. Three-over par for the tournament heading into his second back-nine, the 30-year old world No. 2 made a stunning up-and-down to save par on the par-3 10th. Then made birdies on the short 14th and the par-4 16th, where he chipped in. All of which allowed him to make pars on the last two holes — both par-5s — and still duck under the cut line.
“I definitely had to scramble,’ he admitted. “A bit too much at times. I’d like to make things easier tomorrow. But the par on 10, the birdie on 14 and the birdie on 16 were encouraging. I want to be more aggressive over the weekend. But to do that I have to play better. I need a good warmup tomorrow then go make as many birdies as I can. I’m a long way back though.”
Yes he is. But in a situation such as this the mind always wanders back to the 2010 Quail Hollow Championship. Two strokes outside the cut line with two holes to play in his second round, McIlroy made two birdies to survive than went on the win the tournament. By four. With this man, just about anything is possible.