Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry have both stormed up the leaderboard to put themselves in prime position going into the weekend at the Olympics in Tokyo.
Both golfers go into the third round four shots off the lead on -7 after Lowry carded a -6 on day two and McIlroy a -5 after a bogey on 18.
A stunning finish from the USA’s Xander Schaufelle – five under for his last five holes – was enough to take a one shot lead over Mexico’s Carlos Ortiz, with the Irish duo in a tie for seventh.
McIlroy kick-started his round from the sixth to the eighth with a run of two birdies and an eagle. On the back nine, bogeys at 11 and 18 sandwiched a run of three birdies in six holes for a five under par 66 to add to his opening two under par 69.
“It felt good, it didn’t feel much different to yesterday,” said McIlroy. “I felt like I played well yesterday, I just didn’t score as good as I could have and I think that’s why I came off the course maybe not as disappointed as I would have been because I knew that the good golf was in there and it was nice to see some of that good golf today.”
Ranked 13th in the Official World Golf Rankings, McIlroy drove the green on the 294-yard par 4 6th, before sending his eagle attempt 15 feet by. Holing the return effort, it was the moment that jolted his round into action.
“It was a momentum starter, I three-putted that green yesterday so I was sort of thinking of that as well,” he laughed. “It was nice to hole that one coming back and it certainly gave me some momentum going to the seventh, that tee shot there was good and the eagle on the eighth was great. There are a few holes here that the length off the tee is an advantage and that is one of them.”
Once again weather played a factor and play was suspended due to lightning at 3.57am Irish time. Play resumed at 6.20am, and neither McIlroy’s nor Lowry’s momentum was dampened as they both carded birdies on the restart.
“Golf’s a funny game,” Lowry reflected afterwards. “I started off lovely and just sort of had that momentum for the whole day then. Especially when I came out after the delay. I holed a lovely putt on 13, an eight or nine-footer, and then from there, I just played lovely for the rest of the day. I actually missed a short one on 17, which would have been nice to hole, but I’m happy with my score and very happy that I have a chance to do something special over the weekend.”
Yesterday, McIlroy praised American gymnast Simone Biles for joining Naomi Osaka in breaking the “taboo” on mental health in sport.
“I live in the United States and anything that came on the TV with NBC or commercials about the Olympics, it was Simone Biles, it was Simone Biles’ Olympics, right?” McIlroy said.
“So to have the weight of, what is it, total six million people combined in the island of Ireland. You got 300 whatever million, so the weight on her shoulders is massive.
"And just as I thought Naomi Osaka was right to do what she did at the French Open and take that time off and get herself in the right place, I one hundred percent agree with what Simone is doing as well.
“I mean you have to put yourself in the best position physically and mentally to be at your best and if you don't feel like you're at that or you're in that position then you're going to have to make those decisions. I'm certainly very impressed, especially with those two women to do what they did and put themselves first.”
McIlroy, who once walked off the course at the Honda Classic saying he wasn’t “in a good place mentally” insisted he has "a few more tools in my mental tool box to deal with things than I maybe had a few years ago."
“It's part of the job,” he said of dealing with pressure and tough questioning that comes at the Masters where he is trying to complete the career grand slam.
“Is it unpleasant at times for me? Yes. But that's just a part of what I do and where I find myself in my career… some people just have thicker skin than some others and can maybe just handle it a little better and are predisposed to handle it better. But some people have to know when enough's enough and I'm glad that at least the conversation has started.
“There’s been a few athletes that have really spoken up, Michael Phelps, Kevin Love, Naomi Osaka, Simone Biles. I mean the conversation, it's not taboo anymore. People can talk about it just as somebody has a knee or elbow injury, if you don't feel right 100 percent right mentally that's an injury too.”
More to follow.....