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Rory McIlroy retains blasts his way into mix at WGC-Bridgestone Invitational

By Phil Casey

Rory McIlroy rediscovered his magic touch yesterday to blast himself into contention to win the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron.

The second day's play was badly disrupted by storms and the threat of lightning but the World No.4 came out after the restart and turned up the heat on his rivals.

After an opening 67, the Holywood ace was looking to make a move in the second round and, shooting 69, he held his nerve to end on four under par, only three shots off the lead held by Jimmy Walker.

Thomas Pieters is on five under par while Zach Johnson and Hideki Matsuyama are also on four under.

McIlroy celebrated a birdie on the second hole but gave the shot back on the ninth following a wild drive to fall back to three under.

Then came a run of pars before the 28-year-old hit another birdie on the 16th.

The start of play had been delayed due to a passing storm over Firestone Country Club and just over two hours' play was possible before the threat of lightning caused another 45-minute delay.

But McIlroy, playing his first tournament since splitting from long-time caddie JP Fitzgerald, with whom he won all four of his Major championships to date, looks back in the groove.

Harry Diamond, the best man at McIlroy's wedding and a former top amateur player in his own right, has replaced Fitzgerald on the bag and although it remains to be seen if the relationship becomes permanent, McIlroy joked on Wednesday that "if we have a good fortnight, you never know".

The early signs are promising but McIlroy, who has endured a winless, injury-plagued season in 2017, will now be hungry to strike for the top spot.

Scotland's Russell Knox is on three under par after shooting a second-round 71. Justin Rose shot a 69 but is one over par for the tournament.

Last year's Masters champion Danny Willett's miserable form continued as he added a 74 to his 76, leaving him on 10 over par.

Former World No.1 Jason Day of Australia had earlier outshone playing partners Open champion Jordan Spieth and McIlroy as a four-under round saw him finish on three under par.

Day - who will have one eye on the US PGA next week, which he won in 2015 - had managed to birdie the first hole in that time and carried on where he left off when play resumed, picking up shots on the second, third, fifth and ninth to cover the front nine in 30, despite appearing in some discomfort due to a back problem.

That took the 29-year-old Australian to four under par and just a shot off the lead shared by Walker and Pieters, but as Day, Spieth and McIlroy prepared to play their second shots to the 10th, the siren sounded to suspend play once again.

Spieth, who is seeking his third win in succession after victories in the Travelers Championship and Open Championship, had also birdied the par-five second but carded three bogeys and a birdie in a four-hole stretch from the fourth to lie two under.

Before the first suspension Knox had surged into a two-shot lead thanks to birdies on the first three holes, but the 32-year-old Scot bogeyed the fifth and seventh when play resumed. A birdie on the ninth took Knox, who won the WGC-HSBC Champions in November 2015, out in 33, only for further dropped shots on the 11th and 12th to leave him alongside Day on four under.

Meanwhile, Basketball star Stephen Curry played a solid opening round at the Ellie Mae Classic.

The Golden State Warriors guard took time out of the NBA off-season when he accepted a sponsor's invitation to play in the event and carded a respectable four over par 74.

After a round which included three birdies, five bogeys and one double bogey at TPC San Francisco Bay, the 29-year-old told reporters afterwards: "It was an amazing experience.

"I've been looking forward to this and to finally hit my first shot in tournament play was a really, really nervous moment - but it was everything that I hoped for.

"As soon as he said my name on the first tee I could barely feel my hands, I had to try to take a deep breath.

"I don't think I could prepare myself for that moment but after the third or fourth hole it was golf as normal for me, just try to hit some good shots.

"If you told me I was going to shoot 74 going into the first round, I would take that all day, every day.

"I'm happy with it. Obviously as a competitor, you feel like you can always play better. So hopefully I can do that tomorrow."

Fellow American Nicholas Thompson was top of the leaderboard at the end of the first round, on seven under par.

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