Instead of his reputation, or indeed a sandwich, Rory McIlroy took a chunk out of the field at the Honda Classic as he seeks his first PGA Tour win in 18 months.
McIlroy overcame a poor start, dropping two shots in the opening three holes, to putt his way back to the top of the leaderboard with another assured display on the greens. The tweak made to his grip last week under the guidance of putting coach Dave Stockton reaped a rich dividend with McIlroy stroking them in with crushing reliability. Only 24 putts yesterday with two birdies finding the cup from 29 and 33 feet respectively.
So a year after quitting mid-round on the Friday of this tournament citing tooth ache McIlroy went to his lunch in robust health, his second round 66 giving him a three-shot clubhouse lead. The birdie at 18, where he said farewell last year, was a neat counterpoint to that trauma.
This kind of sustained mastery of equipment and course was last in evidence two years ago when victory here took McIlroy to the world no.1 ranking and proved the catalyst to a second major. With the Masters only six weeks away, McIlroy could hardly be in better shape.
And that’s how he sees it. “It wasn’t the best start. It took me a few holes to get into my rhythm. I am putting really well. When I hit it close I’m converting and whenever I need to make par-saves I’m feeling really good.”
Another showing encouraging signs is Lee Westwood, one of the morning’s biggest climbers. Remember him? Westwood recovered from a bogey at the first to post a 65, which took him into the clubhouse with a share of third place, four adrift of McIlroy.
Westwood puts progress down to an improved short game courtesy of the move to Florida 15 months ago. “I played great, 65 is a good score. My chipping has been red hot. When I walk into bunkers now I’m looking at making it rather than just getting it close,” he said.
“I don’t live far away from here, in Old Palm. It’s just across the road, really. I’m playing in these conditions all year round. You get used to playing in this climate, so living in Florida has helped me a lot.”
Welshman Jamie Donaldson shot a 69 to take him to six under par and give Britain and Europe an early 1-2-3. “I played nicely again, but didn’t get the score to show for it. I hit a lot of fairways and I’m looking forward to a strong weekend,” he said.
With the projected cut set at level par, afternoon starter Tiger Woods needed to improve on his one-over 71 to avoid missing a tenth career cut on the PGA Tour. That statistic, almost as much as the 14 major victories, sets Woods apart as the golfer of the age.
Phil Mickelson was looking at a weekend off after shooting a second-round 71 to close one over.