McIlroy in contention behind Willett at Irish Open
STRAFFAN, Ireland (AP) Rory McIlroy achieved his first aim at the Irish Open: Making the cut for the first time in four years.
The next target for the world No. 3 is clinching his first win of 2016. He'll have to reel in Masters champion Danny Willett to do so.
McIlroy shot a 2-under 70 in the second round on Friday to be one stroke behind Willett (71) and Marc Warren (66) at the K Club heading into the weekend. Willett and Warren were on 8-under 136.
''The Irish Open is one of the most important tournaments of my year and I'd dearly love to win it one day,'' McIlroy said. ''I feel like I've given myself a great chance.''
McIlroy has had six top-10 finishes in 10 events but is the only member of the world's top five without a win this year. He rolled in five birdies in a round made tough by gusting winds, with two of the putts from 31 feet and 20 feet on the back nine.
''I just feel like there's something waiting there to click and when it does, I could be off and running,'' McIlroy said, ''and that could be the catapult or the momentum that I need to have another great summer.''
Willett, appearing in his second event since winning at Augusta National, couldn't emulate his 65 on day one and had four bogeys in what he called a ''scrappy'' round. He found the rain-slick greens and winds deceptive at times.
When one short-range chip shot rolled unexpectedly to the far side of the green, Willett could be overheard telling his caddie: ''That's just ridiculous.''
''Balls are flying miles,'' Willett said afterward.
Warren, ranked 132nd in the world, has failed to make the cut in six of his previous nine tournaments. He said he arrived at the K Club with low expectations of contending with McIlroy and Willett, yet had seven birdies in his second round – including chipping in at the par-3 eighth.
''Finishing with three birdies in the last four holes added a little shine to it,'' Warren said. ''I'd have taken pars coming in.''
English player Matthew Southgate shot 69 in the afternoon to move into fourth place on 5 under, a stroke ahead of Jaco van Zyl (72), Richard Sterne (68) and Tyrrell Hatton (68).
The cut was at 2 over.