Rory pockets a slice of luck thanks to a spectator
Rory McIlroy admitted he owed one spectator more than just a handshake for aiding his bid for an extremely lucrative victory in the Tour Championship in Atlanta.
The world number one from Holywood carded a superb 65 at East Lake – the lowest score of the week so far – to finish six under par, two shots behind halfway leader Billy Horschel, winner of the BMW Championship last week.
Along with Horschel, Chris Kirk, Bubba Watson and Hunter Mahan, McIlroy knows victory on Sunday would also secure the overall FedEx Cup title – and with it a bonus of £6million.
And with Mahan languishing 14 shots off the lead and Watson eight adrift, the battle for the richest prize in golf looks to be down to three players, with Horschel carding a second consecutive 66 and Kirk alongside McIlroy and Australian Jason Day following a 68.
McIlroy insists the title means more to him than the money, the 25-year-old keen to end a brilliant season on a high note after four victories, including two major titles in the Open and US PGA Championship.
The four-time major winner holed from 11 feet for his first birdie of the day on the second, but bogeyed the fourth for the second day in succession after his drive plugged in the face of a fairway bunker.
McIlroy had been frustrated by taking one step forward and one step back on Thursday, but this time took two steps forward with birdies from close range on the sixth and seventh, although another birdie chance did go begging on the par-five ninth.
The 25-year-old never threatened to hole birdie putts on the 10th or 11th, but very nearly holed his approach to the 12th, his ball clattering into the pin.
Fortunately for the Northern Irishman it finished just eight feet away and he holed the putt, before his round took a bizarre turn on the 14th, where his wayward drive clipped a tree and somehow dropped straight into a spectator's shorts pocket.
"I got really lucky," said McIlroy. "It ricocheted off a tree and went straight into his pocket somehow. That ball could have went anywhere and luckily I was able to take a drop and hit it on the green and make par.
"The guy probably deserved more than just the handshake that I gave him."
For the second day running McIlroy birdied the 17th and then put the icing on the cake by holing from 25 feet on the last, adding: "To finish like that with two birdies puts me in a great position going into the weekend."
Justin Rose carded five birdies and one bogey in a round of 66 to move to two under par overall, one ahead of Ryder Cup team-mate Sergio Garcia, who bogeyed the last for a 71.
Germany's Martin Kaymer complained of fatigue in his "marathon" effort of playing six tournaments in the last seven weeks, the US Open champion recording a 69 to lie two over par.
Meanwhile Spain's Pablo Larrazabal carded a course-record 62 to claim a two-shot lead at the halfway stage of the KLM Open.
Larrazabal admitted shooting the first ever 59 on the European Tour was in his mind when he birdied his first six holes on the par-70 layout at Kennemer Golf Club to be out in 28, and history was still possible after he followed four pars with another birdie.
However, the 31-year-old then recorded four more pars before finishing with two birdies and a bogey in the last three holes to finish 10 under par, two ahead of France's Romain Wattel and Italy's Edoardo Molinari.
"I was aware of the 59 more than the course record," he said.
"I thought about the 59 when I started with six birdies.
"I thought I only need five more to make the magic number, but maybe I put a bit more pressure on myself.
"I've got a few course records around Spain but none on the European Tour, so it is nice."