BETHESDA, Maryland (Reuters) - Rory McIlroy’s astonishing display over the first two rounds at Congressional Country Club has given the U.S. Open a jolt of electricity it noticeably lacked during the tournament build-up.
With former world number one Tiger Woods missing this week’s championship while recovering from multiple leg injuries, there was less buzz and energy as the game’s best players prepared for the year’s second major.
However all that changed in remarkable fashion as Britain’s McIlroy followed his opening six-under-par 65 with a masterful 66 in Friday’s second round to set a tournament record total of 11-under-par 131.
With chants of ‘It’s the Rory show’ ringing out in his ears as the 22-year-old Northern Irishman walked down the fairways with his confident, loose-limbed gait, the 111th U.S. Open came alive in sensational style.
Although McIlroy made his first mistake in two days when he double-bogeyed the final hole on Friday, he also racked up five birdies and an eagle at the par-four eighth to lead the field by a staggering eight shots.
Woods stormed to a record 15-shot victory in the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and McIlroy’s scintillating form so far at Congressional has left many wondering if the young Briton can deliver something similar.
“It’s crazy, isn’t it?” American world number four Steve Stricker said of McIlroy’s play over the last two days. “To be at 13 under was pretty incredible, but there’s a long ways to go yet.”
McIlroy became the first player ever to get to 13 under at a U.S. Open when he sank a 12-footer to birdie the 17th before he slipped back to 11 under after finding water with his approach at the last.
“He’s got to come back,” added Stricker, after ending the second round 13 strokes behind McIlroy.
“The way he’s playing now, it doesn’t seem like he’ll do that but you’ve just got to keep fighting and see what happens. But it’s pretty incredible what he’s done so far.”
Fellow Brandt Snedeker, who carded a second successive 70 to lie nine strokes off the pace, put it more simply.
“If he keeps playing the way he’s playing, we’re all playing for second place,” Snedeker said.
Long regarded as a future world number one, seventh-ranked McIlroy loved the look of Congressional when he first saw the par-71 Blue Course last week.
He appears to have found the ideal way to prepare for majors, and has finished in the top three in three of the last six major championships played.
In his most recent, the Masters at Augusta National in April, he blew a four-shot lead going into the final round when he closed with an ugly 80 but he is now perfectly placed to rebound from that in triumphant style at Congressional.
“I took a few things away from the Masters that I felt I could incorporate into my game,” McIlroy said after eclipsing the previous 36-hole U.S. Open record of 132 set by American Ricky Barnes at Bethpage in 2009.
“We’ll see how that goes over the next couple of days.
“It’s been two very, very good days of golf and I have put myself in a great position going into the weekend. But I know more than probably anyone else what can happen so I’ve got to stay really focused and try and finish this thing off.”
On a humid day at Congressional, McIlroy certainly thrilled the fans with his spectacular golf.
He missed just three fairways off the tee and made the most of greens softened by overnight rain by attacking the flags with razar-sharp approach play.
Among his many superlative shots during the second round were a six-iron approach to six feet at the par-four 14th and a stunning four-iron at the par-five 16th which left him with an eagle putt from 10 feet.
“Those were nice,” McIlroy recalled with a broad grin. “I’m very happy with the way I’m swinging it, happy with the way I am hitting it.”
The Briton failed to sink his eagle putt at the 16th, his ball trickling around the left edge of the cup to leave him with a tap-in birdie.
Overall, though, McIlroy had very little to complain about at the U.S. Open’s halfway stage.
“I’ve played two really good rounds of golf, but I know I have to play another two really good rounds of golf if I want to win this tournament,” he said.
Editing by Julian Linden