Inspired McIlroy shows mettle

RORY McILROY may not have been the fluent, low-scoring golfer he was in the first round at Augusta National last night but he showed some other, equally admirable traits as he set about consolidating his lead atop the Masters leaderboard.

A second-round 69 kept him on top, two clear of Australia’s Jason Day, with the bulk of the field in the clubhouse for the second night in a row and set fair for a weekend that could bring his maiden major.

McIlroy teed off for his second round last night not only with the aim of holding onto the lead he had shared overnight with Alvaro Quiros of Spain after a seven-under-par 65 but, with questions about his St Andrews experience at the Open last July still ringing in his ears from Thursday night, he was also under pressure to show he had learned from his mistakes.

Last summer the Holywood youngster had followed a scintillating opening 63 around the home of golf with an 80 the following day in extremely testing conditions.

The media had wondered if they were about to witness another capitulation to the golfing gods but the 21-year-old, who had promised that would never happen again, was true to his word on this day at least.

McIlroy had said he would dig in when the going got tough and “grind it out” when necessary around this most exacting of courses, which was playing harder with every minute of drying heat in the Georgia air.

The first test came at the opening hole, where McIlroy once again found the bunker off the tee but this time left himself with a 10-foot putt to save par. Showing early nerves, he did grind out the par four and having passed that test kicked up a gear to birdie the second and fifth holes.

If this was to be the day the golf world found out what McIlroy was really made of, the Irishman was more than happy to oblige.

He had been relaxed enough on the eve of the Masters to throw an American football around in the street and by Friday that relaxed loping walk of his was still very much in evidence as his name remained at the top of the board while others came to challenge his ascendancy.

Quiros was, alas, not one of them. The Spaniard had grabbed a piece of the 18-hole lead with a birdie putt at 18 in the final group of the day on Thursday and then told reporters he was only interested in making the cut.

If that indicated he was not interested in contending he was immediately true to his word, bogeying the first before finding his feet and moving to eight under with birdies at the seventh and eight.

That was as good as it got for Quiros though, as he bogeyed nine and then doubled the 12th to slip to five under, at the same time as McIlroy birdied the fifth to move to nine under.

There was another birdie at 18 for the Spaniard, who carded a 73 but by then McIlroy was busy not just hanging in but opening a healthy lead as the pack tried to close in.

Australia’s Geoff Ogilvy was making his bid to become his country’s first Masters champion with a second consecutive 69 to get to six under alongside Quiros but was being upstaged by McIlroy’s playing partner Jason Day, eight under for his round to move two off the lead.

In the clubhouse on seven under was Korea’s KJ Choi, who bogeyed the last for a two-under 70. Choi’s compatriot YE Yang had got to eight under after eight holes before falling back to five under with a 72, where he was joined by Ricky Barnes and 51-year-old Fred Couples, who posted a 71 and 68 respectively.

By that time McIlroy had moved to 10 under par thanks to a birdie at the ninth and though he dropped a first bogey of the tournament at the par-three 12th he rebounded immediately with a birdie at the par-five 13th, another sign that the young Irishman was not about to fold. With Choi bogeying 18, that meant a three-shot lead.

McIlroy’s progress was being keenly felt around the golf course and not just by his fellow contenders but by those watching the halfway cut point. He was holding their fate in his grasp with the top 44 and ties and a 10-shot rule determining the weekend field and there were some notable potential casualties.

Defending champion Phil Mickelson’s participation was never in doubt but he will have wanted more from his second round than a roller coaster 72 that leaves him with plenty of ground to make up today.

He was being outdone by Tiger Woods, who had got to three under, two under for his round after 12 holes, and world number two Lee Westwood among others. Westwood was three under for the day and the tournament after 14 holes before eagling No 15 while US Open champion Graeme McDowell was in danger of joining Pádraig Harrington on the way out until he produced an eagle at No 13 after a triple bogey at 12.

Picture: McIlroy hits a drive on the first yesterday. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

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