PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – A scaled-back approach off the tee allowed Rory McIlroy to make his first cut at The Players, but the world No. 2 poked and prodded an increasingly grumpy TPC Sawgrass on Friday.
At the end of the day, he posted an even-par 72. And it seemed like anything but level par.
McIlroy made three straight bogeys on Nos. 7-9. The dropped shot on the par-5 ninth was the most frustrating: From an ideal spot in the fairway, he thinned his second shot from 265 yards into the trees and took two shots from the bunker.
On the par-5 16th, he laid up short of the green, but found himself with a downhill lie and few options, a large tree obstructing his view. He couldn’t go low, because of a bunker and water looming long and right. So, improbably, he took the high route, hoisting his 88-yard wedge shot barely over the tree, then ripped it back with about 30 feet of spin, coming about 6 inches from holing it. Alas, he missed the 7-footer for birdie.
On the 17th, his tee shot nearly trundled off the back edge and into the water. He played his bladed wedge with his right foot on the railroad ties.
On the 18th, he pulled his drive about five yards left of his intended line, and once again found himself one off-balanced swing from tumbling into the pond. Hey, it still was better than his position last year, when he couldn’t take a stance and was forced to pitch out sideways.
That he was able to save par on all three holes showed just how far McIlroy has come on the Stadium Course. Prior to this week, he hadn’t broken par in six attempts.
“More than anything I think Rory’s short game in the last two years has just matured beyond his years somehow,” said Adam Scott, played with McIlroy during the first two rounds. “It’s an amazing short game he’s got for such a young guy. I think he looks pretty sharp.”
Adventures aside, McIlroy is one of 19 players within five shots of Sergio Garcia’s lead. He is at 6-under 138.
“I’m still in there,” he said, “and I just need to get off to a good start tomorrow and get myself back in it.”