PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Much like his approach shot on his final hole, Rory McIlroy’s bid for a new course record at TPC Sawgrass came up just short. But it was still good enough to vault the Ulsterman back into contention at The Players Championship.
In dire need of a low round, McIlroy put together an 8-under 64 on the Stadium Course, and at 8 under for the tournament he is in position to contend for his fourth straight top-10 finish at this event – and perhaps his first Players title.
“I knew that the course was going to play much easier than it did yesterday afternoon. This course really does play so much differently from morning to afternoon,” McIlroy said. “It could have been a couple lower, but it’s still, it’s a great round and hopefully it moves me up the leaderboard and hopefully I’m just not too far away going into the weekend.”
McIlroy started his round on the back nine and began in style, with birdies on each of the first four holes he faced. He added a 55-foot eagle from the fringe on the par-5 16th to play his first seven holes in 7 under, and he made the turn in 29 to tie the back-nine scoring record set by Shane Lowry just the day before.
While McIlroy’s front- and back-nine splits at this tournament have widened with increasing disparity in recent years, he was able to finish his day by breaking par on the front side for the first time in six attempts.
But McIlroy left TPC Sawgrass in a bitter mood after closing out a torrid round with a disappointing bogey. He had only 90 yards for his approach to the par-5 ninth, knowing a birdie would set a new course record. Instead, that shot came up short, and after a difficult chip he was unable to salvage even a share of the existing record of 9-under 63.
“I might have left myself a little bit too close,” he said. “It was a tough shot with it being downwind and the pin so tight. I was trying to get really sort of cute with it, I guess, and I just hit it too easy.”
Despite the closing stumble, McIlroy was able to produce a low score when he needed it most, and he’s now lurking once again near the top of the leaderboard at the Tour’s flagship event.
“I’m disappointed, but there’s still two more days to go,” he said. “That’s the nice thing, I’m in a good position heading into the weekend, but it really depends on what the guys do this afternoon.”