By Teresa M. Walker/The Associated Press
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Rory McIlroy is getting exactly what he wanted out of his trip to Tennessee with the chance to play on the weekend. Now the man from Northern Ireland has his sights set on trying to finish off the St. Jude Classic with a win.
McIlroy snapped his skid of three straight missed cuts in style Friday, shooting a 5-under 65 that gave him the lead after 36 holes and put him into the final pairing Saturday.
“I saw a lot of positive signs with my ball striking. Hit a lot of good iron shots and drivers. So that was something that I was really working on the last couple of weeks and feels like it’s coming together for me. So excited to be in this position for the weekend. This is really what I wanted heading into next week,” McIlroy said.
“For the time being, my mind is focused on trying to win this golf tournament.”
No one has ever won a PGA Tour event, then followed up the next week by winning the U.S. Open. McIlroy will be heading to The Olympic Club in San Francisco looking to defend his championship next week.
First, he is trying to squeeze in as much competitive golf in Memphis as possible after playing only two rounds each at The Players Championship, the BMW PGA Championship in England and then the Memorial last week. Missing the cuts prompted him to add this event, sponsored by FedEx, to his schedule.
McIlroy really clicked Friday down the stretch as he birdied three of his final four holes and finished with an eagle, five birdies and two bogeys to match his lowest round this year on the PGA Tour. With a birdie on No. 18, McIlroy broke out of a four-way tie for the lead with a 133 total.
“It’s nice to see my name on that part of the leaderboard,” McIlroy said. “It’s not nice when you’re struggling to make the cut on a Friday afternoon. It was great. It’s nice to be through to the weekend obviously. It’s obviously even nicer to be leading and have a great chance.”
Jeff Maggert, tied for the first-round lead with John Merrick, shot a 68 to match J.B. Holmes (64) and Kevin Stadler (65) at 6 under. Merrick had a 69 to join Chad Campbell (67) and Kevin Kisner (66) at 5 under.
Davis Love III, the Americans’ Ryder Cup captain, had a 68 and was tied with Padraig Harrington (68) at 4 under. John Daly birdied his first three holes on his back nine to get to 5 under but finished with a 69 and was at tied at 3 under — making his fourth cut in five events.
McIlroy certainly has his driver working very well. Even when his caddie suggested a 3-wood off the tee at No. 18, McIlroy stuck with his driver and drove the ball 329 yards. That left him 115 yards to the pin, and he hit his approach to 5 feet for the final birdie and the lead.
He started four strokes back of Holmes, who took advantage of a morning tee time to take the clubhouse lead at 6 under. McIlroy was happy with his play Thursday with the exception of a bogey on the par-5 third. He made up for that with an eagle Friday, sticking an 8-iron to 9 feet.
Then he parred his way around the rest of the front nine, making the turn at 5 under and a stroke off the lead. McIlroy moved into a three-way tie atop the leaderboard with his second birdie of the round on the par-3 11th. He stuck his tee shot 5 feet from the hole and rolled the putt in for birdie to reach 6 under.
He bogeyed Nos. 12 and 13 to fall back. McIlroy said he wasn’t happy that he had a wedge in his hand in the fairway on No. 13 from 127 yards only to hit into the rough turning a birdie chance into a bogey.
McIlroy turned it around on the par-5 16th, hitting his second shot to 4 feet. The ball hit the left edge and curled right, leaving McIlroy to tap in for birdie and a share of the lead. He had a nice par save on No. 17 after hitting his drive behind a tree and his second into a greenside bunker before getting up and down with a 4-footer for par and the final birdie.
“To finish strong the way I did was great, and it gives me momentum going into tomorrow,” McIlroy said.
Holmes had his low round of the year as he works his way back from brain surgery last September. He had seven birdies and a bogey, putting himself into strong position.
“I wasn’t knocking pins down, but I hit them in there pretty close,” Holmes said. “Made a couple 6-footers, but I putted well. I was hitting it 15, 20 feet and making some putts.”
Maggert was the first to get to 7 under when he birdied No. 16, but he gave back the stroke with his lone bogey on No. 17 that left him pretty happy with only one with the TPC Southwind course playing tough.
“There’s probably 30, 40 guys still in the tournament,” said Maggert, who won the 2006 title.
Divots: Friday was McIlroy’s 150th round on the PGA Tour. He has never had two eagles in the same round, and Aaron Watkins was the last to do that here in Memphis when he eagled No. 5 and 15 in 2009. … Defending champion Harrison Frazar was among 80 missing the cut at 2 over. He was 11 over. David Toms, a two-time champ here, also missed the cut (9 over) along with 2010 U.S. Open champ Graeme McDowell (8 over). … The second-round lead of 7 under is the highest at this event since Tommy Armour III lead at 3 under.