Rory McIlroy feels he is “right in the tournament” after a late rally salvaged a second successive 72 at the PGA Championship.
McIlroy scrambled hard for pars in the early part of his second round and picked up a welcome birdie at the 15th – his sixth – but he suddenly found himself battling to make the cut after a devastating run of four bogeys in five holes on the front nine.
But the two-time champion rallied to birdie the seventh and eighth, and he missed a good chance to make it three in a row as he closed on two over par – safely in for the weekend but 10 shots adrift of early clubhouse leader Kevin Kisner.
McIlroy did well to avoid beginning the day with a bogey at the 10th after he pushed his second and watched anxiously as his ball hit the cart path and came to rest some 80 yards from the hole, but he played an inventive low pitch which found the fringe via the cart path and a bunker and he safely got down in two.
His driving accuracy deserted him as he had to two-putt from 50-foot range at the next two holes before saving another par with a good up-and-down from rough at 13, and he missed his first genuine birdie chance from eight feet at the 14th before atoning from similar distance at the next.
McIlroy made another excellent save from sand at the first, but his luck ran out when he bogeyed the second after another wayward drive before he three-putted the next green, and getting out of position at five and six cost him another two shots as he plummeted to four over.
But he crucially found the fairway at the long seventh which set up a morale-boosting four, and he converted a deft pitch to five feet at the next before shaving the edge of the hole from 12 feet as his closing hole.
“Being two over for the tournament instead of four over is a much better position to be because even making two shots up on this golf course is tough at times,” said McIlroy, who highlighted the importance of finding the short grass from the tee at most of the par-fours.
There’s no winning post there. There are still 36 holes to go and a lot of golf to be played and I still feel I’m right there in the tournament. I probably didn’t quite hit it as well off the tee as I did yesterday, and wasn’t putting myself in positions where I could go at a lot of pins.
“But the greens are firm and some of the pin positions are really tricky, so anything under par today is a really good score. I had a little bit of a mini-rally at the end which I needed, but the four bogeys on the front nine, that’s just down to being out of position off the tee and not being able to get it very close with my second shot.”
McIlroy believes he will need a pair of 67s over the weekend to give himself a chance of ending a three-year winless run in the majors, but he admitted the Quail Hollow set-up is vastly different to the course previously used for the Wells Fargo Championship – a tournament he was won twice while also losing out to Rickie Fowler in a play-off in 2012.
“I guess a low round used to be a 61 or a 62, but a low round now is a 66 or a 67 and you’re playing your ass off to get that,” he added. “I’d say, if I shoot two 67s over the weekend, I’m going to have a really good chance, but I’ll need to drive it a little bit better than I did today.
“This is not the Quail Hollow we have got to know over the last 10 years, it’s a completely different golf course. Even if they didn’t do anything else with the golf course and just changed it to full bermuda grass like it is now, all of a sudden it makes the golf course two shots more difficult with the lies you get in the rough and the trickiness around the greens.
“After what I’ve witnessed over the past two days, I’m not surprised to see so many guys be over par.”