It’s not over yet: Fowler, Day, Mickelson headline list of Rory’s pursuers

Can anyone catch Rory at Valhalla? The best bets could be Rickie Fowler, Phil Mi
Fred Vuich / SI
Can anyone catch Rory at Valhalla? The best bets could be Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson or Jason Day.

LOUISVILLE -- Rory McIlroy was the favorite to win the PGA Championship entering the week, and his first two rounds offered no reason to remove him from that pedestal. He followed an opening round 66 with a Friday 67 and sits one shot clear of anyone else on the leaderboard.

Rain is scheduled to continue to fall throughout the night and sporadically all weekend, potentially turning Valhalla into Rory’s playground, and McIlroy is playing as good as golf as we’ve seen since, well, McIlroy circa autumn, 2012.

But let’s not crown him yet.

Remember Jason Day? He tied for the low round of the tournament with a 65 after five birdies and an eagle on Friday, and the 26-year-old Australian vaulted into Saturday’s final pairing with McIlroy. Day only has two wins on Tour, but he grabbed three top-10s in last year’s majors and also snuck into a fourth-place finish at this year’s U.S. Open. He tied for second at the 2011 Masters and was runner-up at the 2011 U.S. Open. A nagging thumb injury has plagued him for much of 2014, and he withdrew from the WGC-Bridgestone last week after three rounds due to dizziness. But his game is major-ready.

“I’ve been close a lot of times,” Day said. “I’ve said it before. I just have to keep knocking on the door and hopefully it will fall my way one day. Either hopefully it falls my way or just knock the door down and take it.”

Rickie Fowler has only been beaten by six players so far at the three majors this year, notching a fifth place finish at the Masters and two runner-ups at the U.S. Open and British Open. His goal when he joined with Butch Harmon was to create a major-worthy swing. So far in 2014, it’s been an undeniable success.

“I’d say each major I’ve felt more and more comfortable,” Fowler said after his round. “It doesn’t feel like a big stage. I feel like I’m out there having fun … it will be a battle this weekend. We’ll see how many guys we can get to jump on and see who comes out on top.”

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Phil Mickelson eagled the par-5 18th to get to six under through 36 holes. Yes, the same Phil who said at the WGC-Bridgestone one week ago “It’s been a long time since I’ve played well, and it’s more of a struggle than I thought it would be.” He proceeded to shoot a 10-under 62 that Sunday to close out the tournament, and now he’s three shots back entering the weekend.

Jim Furyk seems to lurk around every major leaderboard, and he has three second-place finishes in his last eight events. Even with his clownish Five Hour Energy hat and methodical (to be kind) putting routine, Furyk is a threat. Since 2010, Furyk has entered the weekend of a major inside the top-five six times. The only guy to do it more? McIlroy, with seven.

“Today I birdied 17 and 18, so it always makes dinner taste a little better,” Furyk said after finishing his day in a tie for second along with Day. “You go away with good spirits. We’re only halfway done. There’s a lot of golf left.”

Stay tuned.

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