Belfast Telegraph

Magical McIlroy turns on style to set the standard at Valhalla

By Kevin Garside

Old Trafford does not have a monopoly on filthy weather. Valhalla was in the path of some big rain moving across the Bluegrass state yesterday, turning parts of the course into lakes and forcing a 50-minute suspension of play early in the day.

You might think that a golfer born in Northern Ireland might be well suited to a hosing, but this being America, more rain falls in an hour than in a whole week in Belfast, at least so local testimony tells us.

Thus it was a morning of umbrellas and waterproofs, and endless towelling of hands and grips.

Thankfully there are no squares to cover in golf and the fast drying SubAir systems in place at major courses in these parts are powerful enough to drain the Pacific.

Nevertheless it was a slow start to the second round for Rory McIlroy in keeping with the seeping grey skies that clothed Kentucky in a kind of meteorological melancholy.

He was the only member of a marquee group that included Bubba Watson and Martin Kaymer not to record a birdie on their opening hole, the par-five 10th.

Though that would have hurt him, he walked off the green two shots better than he did on Thursday, when he dropped a double bogey after a stupendous, out-of-bounds drive to the left.

He fell back to four under with a bogey at the 12th when his putt from eight feet, after finding the greenside trap, lipped out.

It was beautifully struck but the break he hoped for was not quite there, resulting in another early test of his mentality.

The response was immediate, a 12-footer for birdie finding the centre of the cup at the 13th to take him back to five under par.

A 10-footer for par at the 14th followed that to keep him right up there, and then he rolled in a 20-footer for birdie at the 15th.

By now the heavy rains that clobbered Louisville in the early hours had returned.

At least the late start provided Bristol's Chris Wood with more time to make the necessary wardrobe arrangements after the tear-up he experienced on day one.

Wood, who has yet to make the cut at this event in two attempts, made one of sorts when his trousers split all the way to his belt loops on his second hole on Thursday.

Having left the waterproofs in his locker, he was forced to cover up with a loaned pair from playing partner Johan Kok, not ideal since he is five inches shorter than the 6ft 6in Wood.

Wood's manager, Stuart Cage, eventually resolved the situation, first by recovering the set of waterproofs then returning from the hotel with a replacement pair of trousers.

"That's the most embarrassed I have ever been on the golf course," Wood said.

"It wasn't just a little rip, it was 10 inches. Everybody was laughing at me."

An opening 66 was some compensation on Thursday however, though with trousers intact the second round did not start so well, a bogey, bogey opening his reward for playing with his modesty intact.

No such problems for Ryder Cup vice-captain Steve Stricker, the man from Wisconsin clearly at one with the rain. Stricker burst through the gloaming with four birdies on the outward nine to reach the turn at six under par.

But no-one was getting clean away in this side of the draw. With four to play, Stricker had fallen back to five under.

While the early starters were negotiating the worst of it, England's Ian Poulter spent his morning in a Twitter storm after British Airways bumped the family nanny out of business class, leaving Mrs P to look after the kids on her own for 10 hours. Poor lamb.

"It looks like I'm being stuck-up. But what is wrong with getting what you have paid for.

"I ordered a steak. Sorry you can have tomato," Poulter said on Twitter.

Not surprisingly, there was little sympathy on Twitter for the domestic problems that sometimes snare the multi-millionaire golfer.

Meanwhile, McIlroy was beginning to deal in the only riches that matter, those made on the course.

It hadn't yet been the imperious ball-striking round of day one, the weather made sure of that, but as soon as the latest pulse of rainfall had passed through McIlroy opened his shoulders, piping a beauty down the par-five 18th.

From there it was a straightforward business to find the green, less so to find the hole, but that is just what he did with his eagle putt, drained from 31 feet.

With that strike, McIlroy established a two-shot lead on eight under par, enough to prompt the bookies to cut his odds for the final major of the season to evens despite only 27 holes having been played.

That is just the kind of madness from which he is so keen to distance himself.

This is a beast of a course on sunny days. In filth like this it is a job just to stay afloat.

McIlroy gave a shot back at the second, his 11th, after missing the fairway.

At the third he was required to hole an eight-footer for par. At the fifth he was on the wrong side of providence in the greenside trap after his ball took a sharp deviation to the right.

He got up and down, but this was a day when little came easy.

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