PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Rory McIlroy had an opportunity to break TPC Sawgrass’ course record Friday, but he wasn’t celebrating when he got off the course.
No, McIlroy was frustrated, even though he’d almost mastered a course that has aggravated him by minimizing his greatest asset. A driver isn’t always the best tool with which to navigate Pete Dye’s ballpark. McIlroy used his 2-iron masterfully off the tee Friday. But on his final hole, he could have used the club that takes its place in his bag, his 5-wood.
He was 9 under par when he arrived at TPC Sawgrass’ ninth tee, needing a par to match the course record. McIlroy hit 3-wood off the tee, then decided to lay up because he didn’t feel he had the proper club for the shot and hadn’t had much success when going for that tiny green in two.
“Maybe if I had the 5-wood in the bag, I might have went for it because at least I could have gotten a little bit more height,” McIlroy said. “But I was thinking about (the course record). I wanted to make birdie and shoot 62. There’s no doubt about that.”
Though he missed his mark, McIlroy’s second round still vaulted him into contention. He jumped 71 spots on the leaderboard into a tie for 12th, six shots behind leader Jason Day. That bogey at No. 9 was McIlroy’s only one of the day.
“Any time I’ve gone for the ninth green in two here, … it’s never really worked out for me,” McIlroy said. “I sort of talked myself out of it on the fairway.”
He hit his lay-up too far down the fairway, he said, leaving a touchy approach shot to a hole tucked behind the bunker. The shot was downwind, which made it play even more difficult.
“I was trying to get really sort of cute with it and I just hit it too easy,” he said.
McIlroy’s approach hit the bunker’s grassy lip and stayed in the rough. He chunked the chip shot, and two-putted for bogey. McIlroy, who shot 72 on Thursday, posted 8-under 136. Colt Knost matched the course record of 63 earlier Friday, while Day did the same in the first round. Day will play the final 3 1/2 holes of his second round Saturday morning because of Friday’s two-hour rain delay.
McIlroy’s previous low score in 18 trips around THE PLAYERS Stadium Course was 66, in the final round of the 2014 PLAYERS and first round a year earlier. He has finished in the top 10 in the past three PLAYERS after missing the cut in his first three appearances.
McIlroy, who started his round on No. 10 at 8:43 a.m., opened with a 7-under 29 on the back nine, matching the record set a day earlier by Shane Lowry. It also was the lowest nine-hole score of McIlroy’s PGA TOUR career. His 22 putts Friday matched his personal record in a TOUR event.
“This course really does play so much differently from morning to afternoon,” McIlroy said. “I felt the greens getting a little firmer, the wind gets up a little bit, so you have to take advantage of your tee time in the morning. Thankfully, I was able to do that today with a low one.”
This round continued a three-year trend for McIlroy, who’s thrived on TPC Sawgrass’ back nine but can’t replicate that success on the front. Since 2013, he is 44 under on the back nine and 12 over on the front.
An outstanding start to his second day at TPC Sawgrass put the course record within reach. McIlroy made birdie on his first four holes before adding another at No. 15 and eagling the par-5 16th, where he holed a 53-foot putt from that fringe after playing away from the water. He made bogey on that hole the previous day after hitting his second shot in the water.
He made three consecutive pars before adding another birdie at the par-5 second hole. He lipped out a 12-foot birdie putt at No. 6 after hitting his approach shot from the rough, but made a 7-foot birdie putt at the next hole. He missed a 23-foot birdie putt at the long par-3 eighth hole. Then came the ninth hole, which marred an otherwise sterling scorecard.
“I’m frustrated. (My score) should have been a couple better,” McIlroy said. “I’m disappointed, but there’s still two more days to go. That’s the nice thing. I’m in a good position heading into the weekend.”