By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
ATLANTA -- Rory McIlroy admittedly didn't get off to the best of starts on Friday.
Turns out, though, the finish was well worth the wait, and that 25-footer for eagle at the 15th hole may turn out to be the momentum boost he needed.
McIlroy, who gutted out a 68 on Friday, will start the third round of the TOUR Championship in a tie for seventh, four strokes off the pace being set by Jim Furyk. Equally important, he's back on top of the FedExCup standings where he started the week in the race for the $10 million bonus.
Things weren't looking that good at the beginning of the round as McIlroy needed par saves on three of his first five holes just to keep pace with the elite field of 30 Playoffs survivors. Once the 23-year-old rolled in a 22-footer for birdie at the sixth hole to steady himself, though, his outlook improved dramatically.
"After that, I was just very solid," McIlroy said. "I made like seven pars in a row, and then I bogeyed 14, eagled 15, and parred my way in. So it was pretty solid golf after that, but a bit of a shaky start."
McIlroy is still not hitting as many fairways as he would like -- just six on Friday, in fact, which was one fewer than he did in the first round. But he managed to find 13 of his last 14 greens in regulation, and if the putter begins to cooperate -- he needed 31 in the second round -- a really low score could be on the horizon.
"It was good," McIlroy said. "Actually could have been a couple of shots better, but I feel like I'm in a good position for the weekend. ... (I'll be) trying to hit a few more fairways. Trying to find the greens and give myself as many opportunities as possible. If I do that, I won't be too far off."
McIlroy acknowledged that it's hard not to let his mind wander sometimes. After all, there's a veritable pot of gold at the end of the TOUR Championship rainbow come Sunday and he is assured of the bounty if he wins his third straight Playoffs event and fifth event of the season.
"I think first and foremost, I just have to try to think of my
standing in this golf tournament, not really think about anything
else," McIlroy said. "If it comes down to it on Sunday where I need
to really know what I have to do for the last few holes, then of
course if I have a decision to make between protecting my lead in
the FedExCup or trying to win the golf tournament, I think I know
what I'm going to choose.
"But we just have to play until we reach that point, and at the minute, I'm just concentrating on trying to play as well as I can."