Rory McIlroy continued his bid to put distance between his golf game and his innermost thoughts following his split from fiancee Caroline Wozniacki and has found himself in contention heading into the weekend’s play at the BMW PGA Championship.
The break-up with Danish tennis star Wozniacki, announced by McIlroy on Tuesday, had left Ireland’s world No 10 golfer and two-time Major winner wondering how his game would be affected on a course at Wentworth where he has so often struggled.
His first round produced a four-under-par 68 and the reassurance that he had what it took to banish his problems in his personal life and focus on shooting a good score. He followed that yesterday with another example of dogged determination to rally from three over for the day after seven holes to card a one-under 71.
“I think yesterday was a little tougher than today,” McIlroy said. “I was apprehensive going out yesterday. I didn’t know what was going to happen, and at least going out today, I knew what to expect.
“I think it was good that I had the quick turnaround from last night to this morning just to get straight back out on to the golf course. That was a good thing, too.
“You can’t let your mind wander at all when you’re trying to win a golf tournament.”
McIlroy had said he just wanted to make the cut this week, but that is changing. The Down native’s 71 did not just ensure he would make the weekend for the first time in three years, at five under par he is within range of the tournament lead, held by Thomas Bjorn and Ireland’s Shane Lowry at 10 under par.
McIlroy’s opening round had featured eagles at both the par-four seventh and par-five 12th and those same holes figured prominently on his card yesterday.
Having scored his first-round 68 in the afternoon, McIlroy had a quick turnaround with an early tee time yesterday morning in brisk and breezy conditions that worsened as the day wore on — heavy rain adding to the problems. There were two bogeys and a birdie in his first four holes but the seventh, where he had holed out from 130 yards the day before, this time proved problematic.
He was in trouble right, off the tee and then overshot the green out of a bunker, his ball landing behind a television tower. His chip back onto the green rolled down the hill to the lower level of the large putting surface and McIlroy sent back an excellent 60-foot lag putt from which he took a double-bogey six.
He had the 12th hole’s number, though, carding eagle for the second time thanks to another great approach. On Thursday it had been a five-iron from 203 yards to inches from the hole. Yesterday it was a seven-iron 177 yards to eight feet and the result was another two-under-par score on the hole.
A bogey at the next hole wiped out one of those gained shots but McIlroy finished strongly, with three birdies in his last four holes for a respectable 71.
“Even the way the conditions were, three over after seven, it wasn’t great but it wasn’t disastrous, and three over after nine wasn’t too bad, either. I knew I had some chances coming on the back nine... I knew I would be okay.
“I’ve exceeded [expectations], I think, so far. I honestly didn’t know what to expect. Didn’t know what was going to happen and didn’t know how I was going to feel. So to be in here for the weekend and to be in with a chance is good.”