McIlroy takes clear lead

Rory McIlroy banished the memory of St Andrews last year to take a clear lead into the closing stretch of his Masters second round in Augusta today.

Rory McIlroy banished the memory of St Andrews last year to take a clear lead into the closing stretch of his Masters second round in Augusta today.

The 21-year-old, joint overnight leader with Spaniard Alvaro Quiros, went to the turn in 33 and even when his first bogey of the week came on the short 12th he followed it with a birdie.

That in itself showed there was no need to fear a repeat of what happened in The Open, where after a major record-equalling 63 for starters he crashed to an 80.

Now, at 10 under par with four to go, the Northern Irishman was three ahead of Korean KJ Choi and four in front of Australian Geoff Ogilvy and Spain’s joint first round leader Alvaro Quiros.

They had all finished their day’s work, as had England’s Luke Donald and Ross Fisher on four under and defending champion Phil Mickelson on only two under after a frustrating 72.

Last April’s runner-up Lee Westwood and four-time winner Tiger Woods were on the same two under mark as they entered the inward half, Woods after birdies at the eighth and ninth.

But McIlroy, third in the last two majors of last season, was building on his opening 65 just as he had hoped.

Choi and fellow Korean YE Yang had overtaken him before he had teed off again and Quiros got to eight under as well before taking two in a bunker at the 12th and double-bogeying.

But McIlroy continued on his merry way with birdies at the second, fifth and ninth and, after the slip-up three holes later, the par five 13th could have brought him even more joy as he missed a 10-foot eagle chance.

Donald, meanwhile, equalled the lowest round of his Masters career with a 68.

After recovering from three over par after 10 holes to open with a level par 72 Donald said: “I’m in a good position.

“I think I’ve played enough here to know you can get on some runs and fortunately that happened. I didn’t make a great start, but I certainly didn’t panic.”

As for McIlroy being in the lead Donald added: “It’s early days. The weekend’s only going to get tougher.”

Donald was playing with 51-year-old Fred Couples, who did even better than him on the first two days with a five under aggregate that put him in joint fifth spot with fellow American Ricky Barnes, Yang and Australian Jason Day, who was paired with McIlroy and was making his debut.

Mickelson’s chances of a successful defence and a fourth green jacket in eight years were hit by three bogeys in four holes from the third.

In typical fashion the tournament favourite, a winner in Houston on Sunday, then birdied three of the next four, but he bogeyed the 11th after failing to find the green for the second day in a row and missed out on birdie chances at the 13th and 15th, Augusta’s two par fives on the inward half.

Mickelson said: “I left too many shots out there. I had six up and downs that were not hard and I didn’t make them.

“Fortunately I am not in that bad a position and I can get back in it, but I can’t afford this weekend to leave those shots out there.

“These next two days are my favourite two days of the year and you can make up a lot of ground.”

Woods mixed two birdies with two bogeys in the first six to be one under and when he three-putted the seventh for another dropped shot he was in 36th place - only the top 44, plus anyone within 10 of the lead, make the cut – but he chipped to five feet at eight and made a nine-footer on the next.

Ian Poulter made a 10-foot birdie putt on the last for a 69 that lifted him from two over to one under, but dropping four shots in the last four holes of his opening 74 had left him with a mountain to climb.

Paul Casey was two under after a 72 and Justin Rose (71) had a chance of making it through after playing the last six in four under. He eagled the 13th and birdied the 14th and 16th.

Ross Fisher added a 71 to his initial 69, while Scots Martin Laird was level par after 14 and US Open champion Graeme McDowell, partnering Woods again, stood one over.

Sandy Lyle’s 80 saw him crash out on nine over, while Ian Woosnam, who nearly pulled out before the start because of hip trouble, had 77 for 11 over.

Padraig Harrington, another who almost withdrew because of a neck problem in his case, was one under for the day after 12, but at four over he needed a Rose-like finish.

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