Rory’s keeping the heat on Lee Westwood
As warm-ups go, Rory McIlroy is having a very satisfying week in Memphis.
One could plainly see the Holywood youngster's game coming together over the first 36 holes of the St Jude Classic as McIlroy followed up Thursday's opening 69 with a sweet 66 yesterday to move within four shots of leader Lee Westwood. Westwood, who shot 68, will now head into the weekend as joint leader with American Garrett Willis, who shot a 65, one shot clear of another American, Charley Hoffman, who also carded a five-under round at the par-70 course.
After hitting fewer than half of the fairways and greens at TPC Southwind in the first round, McIlroy gradually began to range in on his targets yesterday.
He found the fairway with 10 of his 14 tee shots and landed his ball on 12 of 18 greens in regulation as, for the second round in succession, McIlroy went bogey-free on a demanding golf course.
Day-by-day, the 21-year-old is honing his shot-making for next week's US Open at Pebble Beach, where the fairways will be tight; the rough will be punitive and the greens will be as hard as the average kitchen floor.
Of course, there's no comparison between the Bermuda grass greens at Southwind and the good, old-fashioned poa annua putting surfaces at Pebble.
Some might even suggest that nothing he experiences in Memphis can prepare McIlroy for the unpredictable hops and bobbles he and the rest of the field are likely to encounter at the US Open.
Yet as Tiger Woods proved as he swept majestically to his record-breaking 15 stroke victory at the 2000 US Open on the spectacular Pacific Ocean shore at Carmel Bay, the key to success at Pebble is confidence, especially in your putter.
On his day, McIlroy is a magnificent putter, as he proved during last month's spectacular surge to victory at Quail Hollow — yet it would do his confidence a world of good to have a good putting week in Memphis, regardless of the grass under his ball.
In that regard, yesterday's second round also was relatively impressive. At the 10th, his opening hole, McIlroy took full advantage of a fortuitous bounce off the branch of a tree to the right of the green by sinking the six-footer he was left for birdie. Nice start.
Then he rolled-in a 12-footer for par at 12 after his tee shot had splashed into the water.
And McIlroy holed-out from 18 feet for another birdie at 16.
As he zoned in on pins on his way home, the youngster needed to make putts from inside six feet for his birdies at three and nine. McIlroy will tee it up at Pebble Beach's 10th hole next Thursday with Japan's teenage sensation Ryo Ishikawa and golden oldie Tom Watson, hero of Turnberry last summer and winner of the 1982 US Open.
As a three-time Major-winner Padraig Harrington plays in one of the show groups with his good friend, Masters champion Phil Mickelson and US PGA-winner YE Yang of Korea in the first two rounds. They also start at 10 on Thursday, while Graeme McDowell will play off the first tee in the first round with Shaun Micheel in a three-ball which has been left incomplete to accommodate any last minute qualifier.
Ballyclare's Gareth Maybin will make his US Open debut in the company of PGA Tour pro Chris Stroud and Jean Francois Lucquin of France.