McIlroy in contention at PGA Championship
AUG 09, 2012 6:35p ET
As Ernie Els said, "A one-shot lead isn't really a lead, because a guy can birdie one hole and your lead is gone."
McIlroy is in a four-way tie at -5, one stroke behind Carl Pettersson. The young Irishman is close enough to the lead to have everyone's attention. And if continues to play as he did on Thursday, he could run away from the rest of the PGA Championship field just as he did 14 months ago at the U.S. Open.
McIlroy hit every fairway at the Ocean Course, most of them never venturing far from the center. This feat was magnified by the fact that he hit 10 drivers, a club that has become an endangered species in major championships.
"When you're hitting it in the fairway and you're hitting it long, it gives you a big advantage over a good percentage of the field," McIlroy said.
The sixth hole today was a prime example. A 480-yard par-four, McIlroy hit a tee shot that looked as if it had been blasted out of a canon. He had wedge to the pin and made his fifth birdie of the day.
To put that into perspective: Until the year 1980, the 13th hole at Augusta National — a par-five — played 480 yards, and half the field laid-up with their second shots.
McIlroy's opening tee shot at the 10th (he started on the back nine today) went 70 yards past fellow competitor Jim Furyk. That led to another wedge close for birdie.
"You see a drive go down the middle of the fairway 330 yards, it's going to give you a bit of confidence, too," McIlroy said. "So, that's nice."
When he is on, McIlroy plays the game Tiger Woods did when he was winning majors by double-digit margins. Long and straight, he rarely has more than a short iron into a par-four and can reach all the par-fives in two.
His focus and his putting have let him down at times, but today he rolled every putt with perfect speed and never once appeared distracted.
"I was working very hard on technical stuff the last few weeks, and then a slight mental adjustment as well," he said. "I felt like I was maybe hitting too many balls on the range. I just needed to go out there and play a bit more on the course and see shots."
Perhaps the best tip he got before play began came from former PGA Champion Dave Stockton, who was the U.S. Ryder Cup captain in 1991 at Kiawah Island. Stockton, now one of the sought-after putting instructors in the world, made a slight adjustment to McIlroy's stroke.
But then Stockton said, "Go out there and have fun. Enjoy it. Smile."
"That's something I've tried to do," McIlroy said. "It's definitely helped."
He has also tried to play a more mature and patient game, something that will make a difference as the wind picks up and the Ocean Course dries out.
"You have to have the right attitude," he said. "You have to realize that to give yourself a chance going into the final day of a major, there are 54 holes to play (ahead of time). Especially on a golf course like this, middle of the greens is totally OK. Every time you hit it in the middle of the greens, you're going to have a chance.
"And for me, it's about giving myself as many chances as possible."
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