McIlroy proving to be a quick study at Riviera
February 20, 2016
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
- Rory McIlroy is seeking win No. 12 on the PGA TOUR. (Chris Condon/PGA TOUR)
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- Rory McIlroy stood in the right rough, twisting his body ever so slightly as he followed the flight of his approach shot on the 18th hole at Riviera Country Club Saturday afternoon.
The ball curved around the trees and tumbled down the hill beside the green, settling in the grass beside a hospitality area. His chip sailed high into the air, landed on the putting surface and rolled 19 feet past the hole.
Not exactly the kind of finish you want when you're trying to keep pace with the leaders of the Northern Trust Open.
But this is Rory McIlroy we're talking about -- the former world No. 1 himself. And the roar at Riviera Country Club after he buried the anything-but-automatic par putt was nothing short of deafening.
"That's one of the loudest cheers I've had in a while after I holed that par putt," he said. "It would be nice to hear something like that tomorrow."
The much-needed par save left McIlroy at 10 under, just two strokes off the lead held by the 2014 Northern Trust Open champion Bubba Watson. The round of 67 was the young Northern Irishman's second straight on a course he'd never played before this week but one to which he's taken an immediate liking.
Dustin Johnson, who has been the runner-up at The Riv each of the last two years, is tied with big-hitting Jason Kokrak and the resurgent Chez Reavie at 11 under. Another former world No. 1, Adam Scott, is tied with McIlroy, Marc Leishman, Kevin Chappell and K.J. Choi on the jam-packed leaderboard.
"I think quality courses produce a quality leaderboard, and you just have to look at the names up there at the minute, Bubba, Dustin, myself, Adam, all very, very good players," McIlroy said, reeling off the names of four players ranked in the world's top 10.
"It's going to be a bit of a shootout tomorrow. I'm happy that I stayed at 10 under and didn't drop to nine, because ... I don't really want to be too far back with so many guys in with a chance tomorrow."
McIlroy only made one bogey on Saturday but he did put himself in some of what he called "stressful" situations that added pressure on his putter. The big issue was his driver -- the 26-year-old didn't find his first fairway until the eighth hole and only hit a total of five.
"Even though the rough isn't that long, being in that kikuyu rough, it takes so much control out of your hands," McIlroy explained. "Even though the greens are soft, it's still very tricky to judge.
"So I need to hit a few more fairways. I feel like my iron game is sharp. Short game has been pretty good. My putting was nice today. I felt like I rolled it really well. ... I was quite aggressive and left myself a lot of three- or four-footers but I holed out well. I have to continue to do that."
Three birdies on the back nine enabled McIlroy, who could climb back to world No. 2 with a win, to keep pace with the leaders. He's proven a quick study at The Riv so he understands he can't get too aggressive on Sunday.
"It's one of these golf courses, if you just stay around, hang in there and not make too many mistakes, stay patient, your time will come and it will present itself with a few opportunities," McIlroy said. "And thankfully on the back nine I was able to take some of them."
A win on Sunday would be the 12th of McIlroy's PGA TOUR career, enabling him to join Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the only players with as many wins before their 27th birthdays. He won't be looking ahead, though, and he plans to keep his head down and focus on the task at hand.
"I don't think you can look too much at what the other guys are doing," McIlroy said. "You've just got to go out and set yourself a number and if you go out and achieve that, and it's not quite enough, then someone's just played better than you that day."
Rory McIlroy makes clutch par save on No. 18 at Northern Trust