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Rory McIlroy contending, again, at the Memorial Tournament

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Rory McIlroy contending, again, at the Memorial Tournament

Second-round 69 has him near the top of the leaderboard

    Written by Cameron Morfit @CMorfitPGATOUR

    Rory McIlroy's impressive second leads to eagle at the Memorial

    DUBLIN, Ohio – Rory McIlroy has a great rapport with tournament host Jack Nicklaus, whom he sees all the time at the Bear’s Club in South Florida. They have lunch, and talk golf and life.

    RELATED: Leaderboard | The Counsel of Jack Nicklaus

    As for the bond between world No. 8 McIlroy and Muirfield Village, host of this week’s Memorial Tournament presented by Workday, well…

    “Muirfield and I have had a bit of a complicated relationship,” McIlroy said this week, before opening with scores of 70-69 to reach 5 under par, two behind leader Denny McCarthy (69) as the afternoon wave teed off Friday. “It seemed to fit me quite well earlier in my career and then the last few years, I've sort of maybe struggled with the strategy of how to play it.”

    In 10 starts here, McIlroy has four top-10 finishes, but he also has two missed cuts, plus two other starts in which he made the cut but finished way, way back. He’s never won, or even had a close call.

    Still, he keeps coming back because it’s the Memorial.

    Also, he’s not terribly far off – here or anyplace else.

    McIlroy has finished second (Masters), fifth (Wells Fargo Championship) and eighth (PGA Championship) in his last three starts. And he’s embarking on a busy four-week stretch that will include not just the Memorial but a (2019) title defense, of sorts, at next week’s RBC Canadian Open and the U.S. Open at The Country Club in Boston the week after that.

    Then he’s off to the Travelers Championship.

    “I feel like my game is in good shape,” he said. “So I'm excited for this run and excited to give myself a few more chances to hopefully win golf tournaments.”

    For McIlroy, 14th in the FedExCup and seeking his first win since THE CJ CUP @ SUMMIT last fall, Muirfield presents a special challenge, but not an insurmountable one. He can’t swing the driver with impunity, which means finding other ways to shine.

    “I feel like a lot of the fairways here pinch in around 310,” he said, “so it allows the sort of average hitters to hit driver. For an example, last year I played with Viktor Hovland the first two days, and the first hole, he can hit driver sort of right to where the bottleneck starts. I can't hit driver because I'll hit it too far but then I hit 3-wood, you know, 15 or 20 yards short of his driver. So I'm hitting 6-iron or 7-iron in and he's hitting an 8-iron or a 9-iron in.

    “It just seems like the length advantage has sort of been nullified here over the last few years,” he continued. “It's just finding a different way to play the golf course. A lot more 3-woods. I actually went to one of my old 3-woods this week that's a lower lofted. It's sort of like a 2-wood in a way which I think will be good to utilize this week.”

    That strategy seems to be paying off. Case in point, McIlroy hit a 269-yard fairway finder at the par-5 fifth hole Friday, then nuked a 271-yard 3-wood to within roughly six feet of the pin. He made the putt for eagle to reach 6 under par, only to hit his tee shot in the bunker and bogey the par-3 eighth, his second-to-last hole of the day, to leave a slightly bitter taste.

    “Yeah, another solid day's play,” McIlroy said. “Couple of silly bogeys. Bogeyed the 11th par-5 and the 14th for the second day in a row. But I guess it sort of happens around here. It's getting tricky and you're going to make bogeys regardless of where they come.

    “Overall, two solid rounds of golf,” he continued, “right in contention going into the weekend, depending what guys do this afternoon. Yeah, happy with how everything is sort of going.”

    Cameron Morfit began covering the PGA TOUR with Sports Illustrated in 1997, and after a long stretch at Golf Magazine and joined PGATOUR.COM as a Staff Writer in 2016. Follow Cameron Morfit on Twitter.

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