Rory McIlroy showed the nerve to match his talent as he reached the halfway point at Doral firmly in contention at the WGC-CA Championship.
The 19-year-old from Northern Ireland, who won his maiden professional tournament in January at the Dubai Desert Classic, is bidding to become the youngest winner in US PGA Tour history, eclipsing the achievement of Johnny McDermott in winning the 1911 US Open at 19 years, 10 months and 14 days.
McIlroy will beat that by two days if he conquers the Blue Monster course and the top 70 golfers in the world in an 80-man field on Sunday – and he gave every indication he will still be in the hunt after finishing his second round with an eagle and a birdie following a back-nine wobble.
The teenager carded a six-under round of 66 today to stand tied for third place with Kenny Perry of the United States at 10 under par, three strokes behind clubhouse leader Phil Mickelson, who posted a 66, and one behind another American, Nick Watney, on 11 under.
He got there after bouncing back from a run of two bogeys in three holes at his 14th and 16th that sent him down to seven under.
McIlroy rallied at his penultimate hole, the par-five eighth, with an eagle three after sending in a 266-yard second shot with his three wood to seven feet.
He then birdied the ninth after an approach shot from 203 yards to eight feet, from where he holed out.
“I just made two bad bogeys to drop back to seven under and I just ripped a drive up the fairway and I had 268 to the hole,” McIlroy said. “It was a perfect three wood for me.
“It was a nice way to finish there, making eagle at the eighth and then birdie the ninth.”
World number three Mickelson had finished in style for his 65 yesterday, chipping in for birdies at the both the 17th and 18th holes to complete a back nine of six birdies and no bogeys.
It led the American left-hander, a three-time major champion, to state he was playing as well as he ever had, and he started in confident mood with a birdie at the 10th today.
Mickelson overcame a bogey six at his third hole before hitting his stride with four birdies before striking gold again with a chip-in from 33 feet at the seventh, his 16th, for a birdie three.
No sooner had he joined Prayad Marksaeng in the lead at 12 under than the Thai carded a triple-bogey seven at the final hole to drop back to nine under for the tournament after a second-round 70.
Mickelson holed another birdie at his 17th on the way to a second-round 66.
Perry hit an eight-under 64, equalling Spain’s Alvaro Quiros for the lowest round of the day, while Camilo Villegas of Colombia shot a four-under 68 to take him to nine under alongside Marksaeng and Australia’s Rod Pampling.
Ian Poulter leads the eight-man English contingent in a seven-way tie for seventh place at eight under, following a second-round five-under 67.
One shot further back was Ireland’s Padraig Harrington who posted a battling 71.
England’s Oliver Wilson posted a one-bogey, three-birdie round of 70 to reach seven under with compatriots Paul Casey on the same total, Luke Donald on five under and Ross Fisher on four under following rounds of 66, 70, and 69 respectively.
Justin Rose carded 70 to reach one under for the tournament, Lee Westwood will start the weekend at two under after a second consecutive 71 and Richard Finch is at level par for the week after another 72.
Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke moved closer to par with a second-round 71 to reach one over for the week while compatriot Graeme McDowell was at three over following a 74.
World number one Tiger Woods, however, did not get the lift-off he had hoped for following an opening 71.
The American was still finding the going hard in his first stroke play tournament in nine months following reconstructive knee surgery. Woods posted a 70, three under for the week.
“As of now, what am I, 10 back?” Woods said. “That’s not a very good spot to be in.
“Hopefully I can shoot a good round and at least give myself somewhat of a chance going into Sunday. Depends what the leaders do – if they run off and hide, it’s a totally different story.”