Rory McIlroy fires 66, going in right direction at Irish Open

Rory McIlroy fires 66, going in right direction at Irish Open
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Rory McIlroy figured on Friday night that he’d shot himself out of this Horizon Irish Open.

With a 5-under start through 36 holes at The K Club, McIlroy sat outside the top 25 and eight shots off the lead. A back injury had limited his practice entering the week, and with next week’s BMW PGA Championship also on the docket before the Ryder Cup later this month, McIlroy began a busy pre-Rome stretch – he also is attending a scouting trip to Marco Simone early next week and a bachelor party in Greece the week prior to the matches – feeling about 90-95%.

But on Saturday in Straffan, Ireland, McIlroy took a big step forward in his recovery, firing a 6-under 66 to move into contention at his national open.

Just don’t call it a charge.

“It didn’t really feel like a charge,” McIlroy told reporters afterward. “It just felt like a really solid day of golf, giving myself plenty of looks and converting a few, which is probably the difference between the last two days and today. A really solid day’s play, and I needed a little bit of help from the leaders, as well.”

When McIlroy finished, the lead groups still had a handful of holes remaining. Yet, no player pulled away over the closing stretch, and through 54 holes, McIlroy sits at 11 under, just two shots off the lead held by Hurly Long, who carded 70.

And McIlroy’s standing includes a water ball at the par-5 16th hole, which McIlroy bogeyed before birdieing each of his final two holes. He ended up with seven birdies total on Saturday.

Second-round leader Jordan Smith slipped into solo second, just ahead of the solo third McIlroy, after a 73. Smith was part of the final threesome that combined to shoot 6 over.

McIlroy, who hurt his back ahead of the Tour Championship a couple weeks ago, has gone 10 straight worldwide tournaments not finishing outside the top 11. He said earlier this week that his back would be “totally fine” for the Ryder Cup, and he’s backing that statement up at the moment.

“I’ve built on every day,” McIlroy said. “Thursday, I felt sort of rusty because I had not hit a ton of balls coming in here. Yesterday, I felt a little better, even though I didn’t get as much out of the round, and then today, I feel like I just built on the last couple of days. It’s been nice. I’ve been able to hit some more balls this week and get a bit of practice, and my body is feeling better.

“Overall, it’s going in the right direction.”

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