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Wedge woes have Rory McIlroy playing catch-up at Memorial as stricken Woods limps into weekend

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Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods approach the 18th green at Muirfield Village during the second round of the Memorial Tournament (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods approach the 18th green at Muirfield Village during the second round of the Memorial Tournament (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Getty Images

Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods approach the 18th green at Muirfield Village during the second round of the Memorial Tournament (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Perhaps the best way to sum up Rory McIlroy’s second round at the Memorial Tournament came at the par-five fifth.

Faced with 257 yards to the green with his second shot, McIlroy flushed a glorious, high hanging five-wood to nine feet and drained the putt for an eagle three.

Unfortunately for McIlroy, that five-wood would end up closer to the hole than any of the many wedges that he hit across the rest of the day.

That gives you an excellent indication of why the World No.1 could only card a level par 72 in his second round at Muirfield Village, a distinctly average showing that leaves him seven shots off the lead at the midway stage at two under par overall.

“I just struggled a little bit and felt like I was in-between yardages and trying to hit a lot of three-quarter shots and just not sure with my (decelerations) on a couple,” said McIlroy of his display with his wedges.

“I actually hit a couple fat, which I’ve had (caddie) Harry (Diamond) look at my ball position; it might have crept a little too far forward.

“But, yeah, obviously the five-wood on the fifth is going to be the star of the show. People are going to start to make comparisons.”

It’s hard not to. McIlroy currently ranks outside the top-90 in proximity to the hole with his approach shots and, despite having less than 137 yards into the hole on nine occasions in his second round, he never hit it closer than the nine feet on the fifth.

It was a round that was, yet again, mixed with excellence and also forgettable moments.

The latter was summed up perfectly in his start: a bogey at the 10th, his first hole of the day, and then a double at the par-five 11th after driving it in the water and fluffing a chip behind the green. A three-putt bogey at the ninth was also less than ideal.

But there was plenty of the former too. That incredible approach on the fifth came after a birdie at the third and another at the sixth. His ability to shake off that horrendous start and respond with back-to-back birdies at 14 and 15 was admirable too.

“So I’m not doing too badly,” he added. “But today was just one of those days where I didn’t hit good enough wedges.”

Unfortunately, he’s a long way behind leaders Ryan Palmer and Tony Finau, who are both nine under going into the weekend, with World No.2 Jon Rahm, who can overtake McIlroy with a win this weekend, lurking ominously just one shot back.

"I’m feeling good in every part of my game," claimed Rahm of his current form. "I knew I was going to need two or three weeks to get used to things and hopefully this is the beginning of a good run."

But if anyone can iron out those mistakes then it’s McIlroy, and he has two rounds to do so and work his way up the standings again. But if he’s to do so, he’ll also have to overcome the difficulty that having no fans in attendance provide.

“Sometimes you get over these shots and because there’s nothing at the back of the greens, you’ve got a 90-yard shot and you look up and you see the pin and it doesn’t look 90,” explained McIlroy.

“It’s just one of those things where it’s like, ‘This looks shorter’, and you’re in two minds. It’s all these things that we have to adjust to out here. You’ve just got to try and learn as you go.”

Elsewhere it was not a good day for Graeme McDowell, however, as he finished well adrift of the cut line at 11 over par after another tough day at Muirfield Village.

And it was a nervy wait for McIlroy’s playing partners Tiger Woods and Brooks Koepka, who were also both at risk of missing the cut having finished at three over par but eventually made the number on the mark.

Former World No.1 Woods showed the rustiness of having not played any competitive golf since lockdown as he failed to get a string of birdies going in his round, eventually finishing at four over par for the day and three over overall.

The 15-time Major champion, playing in his first event since the PGA Tour’s return, admitted after his round that he wasn’t quite swinging as freely as he wanted after recording a double-bogey and four bogeys to go with three birdies.

“It was a bit of a struggle,” said Woods. “It started this morning during the warmup. It wasn’t quite as good as I’d like, and it is what it is.”

Meanwhile, Koepka, who had Portrush man Ricky Elliott back on the bag after testing positive for coronavirus, saw a double bogey at his final hole of the day leave him on the precipice of not making the weekend as well after finishing at three over as well.

Elsewhere, McDowell will definitely not be around for the weekend at Muirfield Village after another dismal round of 76 in Ohio left him well adrift of the expected cut line at 11 over par for the week, with most of the damage done on Thursday.

He’ll be joined on an early flight to Minnesota for next week’s 3M Open by Offaly’s Shane Lowry, who was also definitely missing the cut after two bogeys in his last four holes saw him card a three-over-par 75 in his second round to finish at four over.

Belfast Telegraph