Rory McIlroy produced a gritty back nine as he battled stiff afternoon winds to card a second round 67 and go into the third round of the Honda Classic, with his world number one hopes intact.
Two behind clubhouse leader Tom Gillis (64) on six under going out, McIlroy birdied the third but then bogeyed the 13th on a windy afternoon at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens.
But he showed his class over the tough closing stretch. He hit an approach to two feet at the 14th and to 15 feet at the terrifying par-three 15th, before burying a seven-footer at the last to finish the day just a shot behind Gillis and Justin Rose, who carded a second successive 66 to grab a share of the lead.
Victory tomorrow would see McIlroy crowned as Ireland’s first world number one.
It was also a positive day for Graeme McDowell, who improved by nine shots on his opening effort when he hit eight birdies in a six-under 64 to move from the cut line to the fringes of contention at three under par.
The 32-year old former US Open champion took advantage of benign conditions and earn a weekend reprieve.
McDowell said: “The difference was in the conditions. This is a tough golf course and I hit a couple of destructive shots yesterday. Today I controlled it better, set up a few nice birdie opportunities and took them.”
Pádraig Harrington played beautifully but while he had five birdies in his 68, three bogeys dented his chances of claiming a victory that could get him into next week’s WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral.
Disappointed to bogey his last hole after bunkering his approach from the middle of the fairway, Harrington said: “It definitely could have been three or four better today.”
British Open champion Darren Clarke packed his bags early after a 75 left him on eight over.
Disappointed with his putting, Clarke said dramatically: “I am enveloped by a feeling of uselessness.
“There is an awful lot of good stuff there but when you take 33 and 34 putts, you can’t compete. I am not hitting it that bad.”
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