(Reuters) - Rory McIlroy recovered from a poor start to record six birdies and surge to a three-shot lead after his second round at the $6 million Honda Classic in Florida on Friday.
The Northern Irishman remained mentally upbeat despite two early bogeys and his positive attitude was rewarded with a four-under-par 66 at Palm Beach National in Palm Beach Gardens.
“It’s just another 36-hole lead,” a relaxed McIlroy told reporters after posting an 11-under 129, a tournament record low halfway total.
American Russell Henley (68) was in second place on eight-under with half the field back in the clubhouse, with Britons Lee Westwood (65) and Russell Knox (63) on seven-under.
Masters champion Adam Scott (69) played with McIlroy, but could not keep pace, slipping eight strokes behind but at least the Australian made the cut.
Phil Mickelson, on the other hand, likely was destined to have the weekend off after carding a 71 for one-over 141.
McIlroy, 24, has rediscovered his form in the past few months and he says he is back at the comfort level he enjoyed in late 2012, when he was riding high atop the world rankings.
He changed driver and ball last autumn and sounds eminently satisfied with the results, saying he can hit a variety of shots with the new combination.
“I‘m much more comfortable with everything and I think it shows in the way I‘m playing,” he said.
Not that it was all smooth sailing for the two-time major champion as he bogeyed his second hole (the par-four 11th) after a poor drive and then dropped another shot at the next hole after missing the green.
“I think it’s a sign of a little more maturity,” he said of his ability to maintain an emotional even keel.
”I‘m not trying to force the issue because I’ve made a couple of bogeys early. I knew had some opportunities coming up. I didn’t panic. I just tried to keep playing the way I was.
“Now that I‘m happy where my swing is, even if I do hit a loose shot I can get over it much easier and quicker.”
His putting has been stellar as well, just 49 putts to date, after recently tweaking a couple of things during a refresher session with former PGA champion Dave Stockton.
Westwood also started slowly, bogeying his first hole, before adding six birdies. The former world number one says he has been battling his swing recently, but feels like it is clicking back into place.
“I‘m working on a couple of things with my swing which are taking effect fairly quickly,” Westwood said.
Masters champion Adam Scott (68) played with McIlroy, but could not keep pace, slipping eight strokes behind but at least the Australian made the cut.
Phil Mickelson, on the other hand, was destined to have the weekend off after carding 71 for one-over 141.
For the second successive days, players were allowed preferred lies because of damp fairways.
Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina, editing by Gene Cherry