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Rory McIlroy thrilled to finish with flourish and get in the mix

Positive outlook: Rory McIlroy watches the flight of his ball at Firestone Country Club in Ohio
Positive outlook: Rory McIlroy watches the flight of his ball at Firestone Country Club in Ohio
Adam McKendry

By Adam McKendry

Rory McIlroy is just three shots off the lead going into the weekend at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club in Ohio.

McIlroy added a three-under 67 to his opening five-under 65 on Thursday, leaving him at eight under for the tournament and well-placed to make a weekend charge for the summit of the leaderboard.

The 29-year-old mixed five birdies with two bogeys in a round that he admitted frustrated him as he struggled off the tee on the tight tree-lined fairways.

But some masterful approaches, and a little bit of luck, kept McIlroy ticking over and he now has leaders Justin Thomas, Ian Poulter and Tommy Fleetwood in his sights.

The Holywood man, who won here in 2014 as part of his dominant stretch that also saw him win The Open and US PGA Championship, got off to a strong start after birdieing the second despite a wayward drive which finished on the adjacent third hole, and the four-time Major winner was then almost hit by a shot from the group in front who were actually playing the par-four.

A nice putt on the fifth handed him a birdie on the par-three, but he would immediately give that shot back on the sixth before regaining it again at the seventh.

A good par save at the mammoth par-four ninth saw him make the turn two under for the day, only for a poor wedge shot over the 10th green to leave him with an almost impossible shot, leading to a bogey.

But it was a sparkling finish from McIlroy that has him smiling going into the weekend, the Ulsterman holing out from a bunker on the 17th for the most unlikely of birdies after a wayward drive, and he then also birdied the last after a superb wedge approach.

"If I had shot one under today I think it would have felt the worst I could have shot with where I was putting some of my tee shots," McIlroy said.

"I should have been giving myself looks for birdies on that back nine and I was having to hole five and six-footers for par so it was nice to finish like that.

"I was getting frustrated out there but that finish makes up for it."

Tiger Woods, who will partner McIlroy in the first two rounds of next week's US PGA Championship and was playing in the group behind yesterday, is two shots further back at six under and is continuing to show strong signs that he's getting back to his best.

The former all-conquering World No.1 had four birdies and two bogeys in his two-under 68 and is also well-placed going into the weekend as he looks to further propel himself up the world rankings from his current position of 50th.

However, it's England's Fleetwood and Poulter who are in a share of the lead.

Overnight leader Poulter added a second round of 67 to his opening 62 for a halfway total of 11 under par, which was matched by compatriot Fleetwood and World No.3 Thomas.

Fleetwood, who birdied his final two holes on Thursday, fired seven more in a flawless 63 while Thomas, who will defend his US PGA Championship title at Bellerive Country Club next week, birdied five of his last eight holes in a 64.

"I was just signing my card there and realised I hadn't had a five and you always remember those rounds," Fleetwood, who also shot 63 in the final round of the US Open earlier this season to finish just a shot behind champion Brooks Koepka, said.

"I never hit it out of position and think I got away with one bad tee shot where it bounced out of the trees but apart from that played lovely, putted really nice and just picked them off.

"It's a driver's course so you have to drive it well. I came off yesterday and I couldn't believe how good the scoring was. It just shows how high the standard of golf is.

"You're always one bad tee shot away from making a bogey but the course has played really soft so the further up (the fairway) you can get it to be able to control it and take spin off makes a big difference.

"If you hit it long and straight it's never going to do you any harm, especially around here."

Poulter picked up shots on the third, eighth and 11th before dropping his first shot of the week on the 12th. The 42-year-old then recorded two more birdies and another bogey on the closing stretch.

"Yesterday was a great score, a pretty flawless round," Poulter said. "Today wasn't quite as good with the scoring and a couple of black numbers (bogeys) on the board but I've played well and it's hard to follow shooting 62 with a low number.

"But I've put a few birdies on the board and I'm in position."

Belfast Telegraph


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