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Just five shots back, McIlroy ready to ‘bomb it everywhere’ to get into contention at Oak Hill

PITTSFORD, N.Y. – Rory McIlroy has seen so much of Oak Hill over the past two days that he almost lost his place on the leaderboard. So when he glanced at the standings after a gritty 69 Friday at the PGA Championship, he could hardly believe his eyes.

He was only five shots back.


“With how terribly I’ve felt over the golf ball over the last two days, the fact that I’m only five back – not saying I could be up there with one of my best performances, but when I holed that putt at the last, I looked at the board and I thought, I can’t believe I’m five back,” he said.

Full-field scores from the PGA Championship

One of the best drivers of his generation, McIlroy has been missing all over Oak Hill – both ways, and occasionally by wide margins. Of the 156 players in the field – including 20 club professionals – he ranked 109th in strokes gained: off the tee through two rounds. He has hit just seven of 28 fairways.

“I know if I can get it in play off the tee, that’s the key to my success over the weekend,” he said. “If I can get the ball in play off the tee, I’ll have a shot.”

The setup here at the PGA has drawn comparisons to the 2020 U.S. Open at Winged Foot, which featured such firm and narrow fairways that almost everyone in the field was playing from the rough. That only strengthened Bryson DeChambeau’s distance advantage, and he romped to a six-shot win that year.

So far, at least, the statistics here at Oak Hill haven’t suggested that a similar strategy is worth pursuing. The co-leaders at the halfway point (Scottie Scheffler, Viktor Hovland and Corey Conners) are all ranked inside the top 7 in approach play through two rounds while hitting it good – but not great – with the driver.

As dominant as McIlroy has been at times in his career, this hasn’t been his best driving year. He didn’t enjoy his usual advantage at either Riviera or Quail Hollow, and he missed the cut at both The Players and Masters.

“When I’m working on the range, I hardly miss a shot,” he said, “and then it’s just trying to get it to go from the range to the golf course that I’m finding difficult.”

On practice days and in the first two rounds here, McIlroy noticed that there’s usually trouble on only one side of the hole.

“So, I think at this point I might just tee it high and just bomb it everywhere,” he said. “As long as you’re missing it in the right spots off the tee, I might as well just go for it and swing hard at it.”

At least McIlroy feels healthy enough to go full bore. He clearly labored through the opening round, when he reported afterward that he was dealing with some sort of illness. He said Friday that he felt “better” and hoped for continued improvement over the weekend.

He’ll need to be at his best to cut into that five-shot deficit.