The two-time FedExCup champion hit 10 of 14 fairways, and 11 greens in regulation. He birdied the ninth and 10th holes, two of the tougher par-4s on the course, and holed out for birdie from the sand on 12. It was the unlucky 13th, though, that got him again.
In the first round “Azalea” bit back when he got caught up in the trees left of the fairway and Rae’s Creek, and made bogey. This time his 321-yard drive found the thick right rough. He had an opening, but after a long discussion with caddie Harry Diamond, chose to lay up.
The sensible play, it nonetheless didn’t pay off. Although his 62-yard third shot stopped just nine feet behind the pin, he missed the birdie and his ball slid four feet past the hole. His par effort power-lipped out.
“It was where I left my (birdie) putt,” he said, explaining his mistake. “The first two feet of it was uphill, and then it went over the crest and started going down, so you had to give it enough speed to at least get it up and over there, and then it just got away from me a little bit. But the greens are getting quicker. Yeah, you’ve got to think about where you’re leaving it.”
At the par-5 15th hole he was too aggressive, going for the green in two even though he was too far left off the tee. His second shot found the water, and he did well to get up and down for par. At least he managed to birdie both par-5s on the front.
McIlroy, 31, would seem to have plenty of time to win here, and the game to do it. But as he’s said, the example of Greg Norman shows there are no guarantees. He looked headed for the green jacket until a final-round 80 in 2011, and his best finish remains a 4th in 2015
Although he hasn’t played well since the PGA TOUR resumed in June, McIlroy began to show positive signs in his last start at the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP @ SHERWOOD, when he led the field with 29 birdies. He’s been showing more of the same the last two rounds, but he’s likely too far back, with Johnson reaching 15 under par even before he’d played his final par 5.
“I just need to go out and shoot a good one tomorrow and see where it puts me,” McIlroy said, “but I have zero thoughts about winning this golf tournament right now.”