Gary Woodland rallied for a bogey-free back nine on Friday to take a two-shot lead into weekend play at the US Open at Pebble Beach
Should Rory McIlroy summon the weekend spirit of Ontario, there would be little point in the remainder of this US Open field turning up for rounds three and four. Alas, professional golf remains an unpredictable beast. An outlandish Friday finish from Gary Woodland also supplied a degree of separation which, even with 36 holes to go, may prove pivotal. Woodland holed out from 49ft at the last for a 65 and two-shot lead, at nine under par.
McIlroy was already in contention for what would be a first major success since 2014 before stepping to Pebble Beachs 1st tee on Friday. What transpired thereafter if at varying levels endorsed the Northern Irishmans claims. Just days after swaggering to Canadian Open glory with closing rounds of 64 and 61, the 30-year-old is in the mix again. Another couple of rounds in the 60s and Ill take my chances, said a bullish McIlroy.
Woodlands statistics give the impression a penny has dropped. His first 27 major appearances came and went without a top 10 finish. He has delivered two in his last three. Woodlands Friday inward half of 31 meant he initially tied, then waved goodbye to Justin Rose. Context was supplied by history; Woodlands 133 strokes is one better than Tiger Woods at the same stage here in the US Open of 2000. Woods led the field by six.
McIlroys round wasnt without drama. His opening 12 holes were as comfortable, particularly on the greens, as is possible in a US Open setting. He had reached six under par for the tournament and was within one of the lead when failing to rescue par from a greenside bunker at the 13th. One hole later, a double bogey seven took McIlroy back to the three under par position he had started day two at. McIlroy had just 107 yards into the pin with his third shot at the 14th. What happened next was somewhat ghoulish.
To McIlroys credit, and in displaying fortitude he typically isnt afforded credit for, he responded with back-to-back birdies. A 69 leaves him four from the leaderboards summit at the halfway stage. A standard McIlroy strength, par five scoring, has thus far been a relative weakness; he played has those holes in plus two. Yes, I need to improve that but Ive obviously played some good golf to be two over there yet five under for the tournament, McIlroy said.
I bounced back well today. Those birdies on 15 and 16 felt huge to get me back in this tournament for the weekend. I need to keep it going; fairways, greens. It sounds boring and cliched but thats what you need to do round here. The course is only going to get tougher.