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Rory McIlroy in for the weekend at Augusta as Woods rolls back the years

Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy

By Adam McKendry at Augusta

Between rain delays, remarkable par saves and a rampant Tiger Woods playing one group ahead of him, Rory McIlroy ensured his Masters tilt isn't over just yet.

The World No.3 carded an up-and-down one-under par second round of 71 to sit level-par for the tournament and seven shots off the lead at the midway point of the first Major of the year at Augusta National.

At the end of the day, McIlroy's card contained an eagle, two birdies and three bogeys as he made sure that, at the very least, he'll be around for the weekend, and with little pressure on him now he could potentially post an early score in Saturday's third round.

But it wasn't a round without its considerable distractions, notably a 29-minute rain delay while McIlroy was just starting Amen Corner, while up ahead Tiger Woods was putting in a star performance to take himself one shot off the lead.

Indeed, Woods could have easily joined the five-way tie for the lead - which is held at seven-under par by Francesco Molinari, Jason Day, Brooks Koepka, Adam Scott and Louis Oosthuizen and is a Masters record for most players tied for the lead after two rounds - only to see short putts at the 17th and 18th roll agonisingly wide.

He will instead start one shot back of the quintet, but will no doubt be confident in his ability to mount a challenge after some impressive shot-making in his four-under par 68.

As for McIlroy, after parring his opening hole he made a brutal error at the par-five second, taking three-wood off the tee. Faced with a lengthy shot into the green, the Holywood man sliced his second shot into the patrons beside the green and had to settle for a bogey after finding the sand with his chip shot.

A great chance for birdie then passed him by at the third, McIlroy driving up just 30 yards short of the green only to fail to keep his pitch shot on the green and watch it roll back towards him. In the end, he had to scramble just to save par.

Pars followed at the fourth and fifth, but they were quickly followed by a glorious tee shot on the sixth to four feet, which was duly converted for a birdie to get him back to one-over par - although, ironically, it was bettered by playing partner Rickie Fowler, who managed to put it two feet.

An excellent sand save from short of the green on the seventh rescued a par for McIlroy and was immediately rewarded on the par-five eighth when the World No.3 put his second shot to eight feet from 226 yards out of the left rough.

The putt was converted, taking him under par for the first time since the 16th hole of round one.

Two strong drives at the ninth and 10th were let down by two disappointing approach shots, both of which came up short of the target, before any momentum McIlroy had garnered was halted by a weather delay at the 11th with lightning in the area.

Once the half-an-hour delay had ended, the 29-year-old slipped up, unable to get out of the greenside bunker at the tricky 11th and having to settle for a bogey to fall back to level par, and once again his putting failed him at the 12th after a brilliant approach to eight feet only for the putt to slide by.

McIlroy's struggles continued at Amen Corner when, in the tricky conditions, he went for the 13th green in two from 178 yards and found the greenside water hazard, leading to a bogey after a penalty drop, and only an excellent seven-foot putt on the 14th rescued a par after a massively overhit approach at the par-four.

His best save, however, came at the 15th. A wild drive into the trees landed in a golf cart, and even though he got a free drop from it, McIlroy tried to be too aggressive with his second shot and struck a tree, ending up requiring to pitch out sideways with his third.

But a phenomenal shot from 185 yards ended up eight feet from the hole, and he rolled in the left-to-right breaker to complete a remarkable par save to stay just one-over.

Arguably, his putt on the 16th was even better. After he left himself 50 feet away following another shot that ended up woefully short of the target, McIlroy lasered in the putt for the birdie to bring himself back to level par for the tournament.

Another sand save on the 17th rescued par, and a straightforward par on the 18th had him in the clubhouse where he started his tournament at level par - he won't be disappointed, but he'll be far from happy though.

Woods, on the other hand, was looking every bit as dangerous as he did in his prime with some stunning shot-making as he carded that four-under par round to sit ominously just a shot adrift of the leaders at six-under par.

The 14-time Major winner turned in one-under thanks to birdies at the fourth, sixth and ninth - offset by bogeys at the fifth and eighth - before really going on the offensive on the back nine.

He birdied the 11th and should have come away with another at 12 after a magnificent approach, before shrugging off a tumble when he was wiped out by a security guard at the 14th to record another gained shot.

That was followed by a long, raking birdie putt on the 15th which sent the crowd into a frenzy, and he passed up two incredible opportunities to take the lead for the first time at The Masters since 2005 when he saw two short putts at 17 and 18 both slide by the hole.

Meanwhile, the round of the day belonged to Louis Oosthuizen, whose six-under par 66 moved him into the five-way tie for the lead on seven-under at the close of play, while early starters Francesco Molinari and Jason Day both hit five-under par 67s in their second rounds to move atop of the leaderboard heading into the weekend alongside round one pace-setter Brooks Koepka.

Koepka had endured a rollercoaster of a start to his second round, sandwiching an ugly double-bogey at the second in between birdies at the first and third. He would add birdies at the eighth, 15th and 18th, along with bogeys at the fourth and sixth for a 71 that has him tied at the top.

They're followed by Woods, who is alongside World No.2 Dustin Johnson, Justin Harding and Xander Schauffele at six-under par, while Ian Poulter and Jon Rahm are a shot further back at five-under.

Irishman Shane Lowry's Masters charge is over for another year as he finished well adrift of the cut mark at seven-over par, while also among those to miss the cut were World No.1 Justin Rose and former Masters champions Sergio Garcia, Charl Schwartzel, Mike Weir and Danny Willett.

Another notable casualty of the opening two rounds was Par 3 Contest winner Matt Wallace, who ensured that he won't be ending that curse this year as he too fell the wrong side of the line.

Belfast Telegraph Digital


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