McIlroy in position for first TOUR win since 2012 after second impressive showing at The Honda Classic
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- All appears to be well in Rory McIlroy’s world again, especially his golf.
A dozen months after the lowest moment of his career, McIlroy is at a high point again, leading The Honda Classic by 1 shot through 36 holes at 11 under after a 66 Friday at PGA National.
“It's a different end of the spectrum I guess,” said McIlroy, who a year ago quit in the middle of his second round here and later cited mental fatigue. “I wasn't quite comfortable with my golf swing. I was still tinkering with equipment. I just wasn't feeling in control of, you know, what I needed to be in control of.
“This year is obviously a lot different.”
So are the results.
A year after at times struggling to break par, McIlroy hasn’t finished outside the top 10 in his last five stroke-play events, which includes a win in Australia and a runner-up in Abu Dhabi.
Through two rounds at PGA National, he has made 13 birdies and just two bogeys. He has also taken just 49 putts, which included 24 on Friday.
The only blemishes on his scorecard came early in his second round after a scratchy start -- he didn’t hit a green until his fifth hole -- but his ability to bounce back spoke volumes about how far he has come the last 52 weeks.
“I think it's just a sign of a little more maturity, not really trying to force the issue or press,” McIlroy said. “I knew that with the way I'm playing and the confidence in my ability, I would be able to get those shots back. I didn't panic.”
Which is exactly what he did a year ago when he played his first eight holes in 7 over and headed for the exit as he neared the turn at the 18th hole.
McIlroy was the defending champion and No. 1 in the world then, having just signed a lucrative endorsement deal with Nike and struggling with his game. He was also in the early stages of changing management companies for the second time in two years. It all was too much.
Now he is adjusted to his equipment -- particularly the driver, which has been one of his best weapons here as he consistently outdrove Adam Scott and Billy Horschel. He’s also engaged to tennis player Caroline Wozniacki, who has followed him around the golf course the last two days.
It’s all starting to click again.
Starting his day on the back nine, McIlroy was sparked by a tee shot to 6 feet on the 16th hole, setting up the first of six birdies in a 10-hole stretch.
The next came when he rolled in a 12-footer on No. 18 and he nearly added another when his 45-footer rimmed out on the second hole.
McIlroy then two-putted the par-5 third and, swinging beautifully as he did for most of a sunsplashed day, stuck a wedge to 4 feet on the next.
He followed with a 30-foot downhill birdie putt at the par-3 fifth, then added one more from long distance, pouring in a 28-footer on the par-3 seventh.
“When you're not quite in control of your swing, your confidence can sort of go in peaks and troughs,” McIlroy said. “When you hit a few good shots, your confidence can go up quite quickly but then you hit one bad one, it can sort of go down again and that's where I was sort of most of last year.
“Now I feel I'm happy with where my swing is, and even if I do hit a loose shot, I can get over it much quicker and much easier because I have the confidence in what I'm doing.”
Even his playing partners couldn't help but take notice.
“Everyone talked about the equipment change but he didn’t look like he was swinging it well last year,” said Horschel, who also played a practice round with McIlroy last summer at the U.S. Open. “He was too outside and would have to re-route the club and would come across the line.
“He looks comfortable now. He’s confident.”
Whether McIlroy goes on to win this week or not almost doesn’t matter. By his own admission, this is the best he has played in 18 months.
“I've had plenty of 36-hole leads before,” McIlroy said. “It's up there. I don't know, I was leading by 10 at one point during the second round of the U.S. Open a couple years ago. I'm playing well and I'm comfortable.”