JOHNS CREEK, Ga. (AP) — Just about any other week, Rory McIlroy would’ve already been heading for home.
Not this one.
Even with an aching right wrist, he’s not giving up on chasing down Steve Stricker.
McIlroy struggled through the second round of the PGA Championship on Friday with his injured wrist all taped up. A 3-over 73 – which included a triple bogey – left a daunting deficit heading to the weekend.
Stricker had not even teed off by the time McIlroy finished, having extended his advantage on the U.S. Open champion without hitting a shot.
But sweltering Atlanta Athletic Club was showing its teeth Friday.
Stricker, who opened with a bogey-free 63 and just missed the lowest score in major championship history, bogeyed two of the first six holes in the second round. He was still at 6 under, but D.A. Points, Adam Scott, Jerry Kelly and Scott Verplank were all within two strokes of the lead.
The 44-year-old Stricker was bidding for his first major title. He’s 0-for-52 in his career but keeps making a run at it, having finished in the top 10 at all four of golf’s biggest events.
Stricker had a shot at the first 62 in major championship history on Thursday. A 10-foot birdie putt at his final hole skidded by the right edge of the cup.
In the second round, Points posted the best round from the morning starters, a 67 that pushed him to 4-under 136 at the midway point. Scott, coming off a win at Firestone with Tiger Woods’ former caddie Steve Williams on the bag, was 3 under through 11 holes.
“It feels great,” Points said, “but it’s only Friday. It’s going to feel a lot better when it’s Sunday.”
What about Woods?
He was trying desperately to make the cut. His score climbed to 9 over when he plugged a wedge in the bunker at the par-5 fifth, leading to bogey, and took another with an ugly three-putt at the seventh.
But Woods closed the front side with back-to-back birdies, moving within three strokes of the projected cut line. He’s failed to make it to the weekend in a major only twice in his professional career: The 2006 U.S. Open and the British Open two years ago.
Just making it through the first two days was an accomplishment for McIlroy, given what he did on his third hole of the tournament. The 22-year-old from Northern Ireland strained a tendon when he foolishly took a swing with his ball sitting against a thick tree root.
He considered quitting a couple of times Thursday, but felt comfortable about carrying on after getting an MRI and being told by the medical staff that he couldn’t do any more damage.
“If it wasn’t a major,” he said, “I probably would’ve stopped.”
McIlroy blew away the field at Congressional two months ago with a record-setting 16-under score. He’s become the new face of the game with Woods struggling, arriving at Atlanta Athletic Club as the favorite.
One ill-advised swing might have ruined his chances.
McIlroy said his wrist didn’t hurt as much in the second round. Actually, a shaky putter was his main problem.
“I feel like I’m hitting the ball OK,” he said. “I gave myself a few chances but I just didn’t putt very well at all. I’m struggling on the greens this week.”
There was also a misjudged tee shot at the par-3 17th.
Torn between clubs, he actually went for a little more distance with a 6-iron. But he took a little bit off his swing, got the ball a little too high and watched in disbelief as a slight breeze carried it into the water. He had to take a drop, then three-putted.
Coming off a 40-foot birdie putt at the 16th that got him into the red, the triple bogey was a momentum killer. “It was tough to come back from that,” McIlroy said.
But he’s not conceding the Wanamaker Trophy to Stricker or anyone else.
“I hope to make a good run at it the next couple of days,” McIlroy said. “I feel as if I can still make birdies out there. If I didn’t think I could contend, I probably wouldn’t be playing.”
Anders Hansen was at 137 after posting a 69, his second straight round in the 60s. Davis Love III also was at 3 under midway through his round.
Former PGA champion Shaun Micheel, who opened with a surprising 66, tumbled off the leaderboard. He played his first 11 holes at 9 over and finished with a 78, leaving him more concerned about making the cut than winning the tournament.
So many wacky things happened on the first day at this course in Atlanta’s sprawling northern suburbs, Stricker’s brilliance and McIlroy’s injury were only part of the story.
Woods opened with a 77, his worst score ever in the PGA. Japanese star Ryo Ishikawa put six – yes, SIX! – balls in the water and wound up with an 85, the highest score of his professional career. The groundskeepers had to contend with mowers gone wild, hastily repairing two greens that were damaged while being clipped.
The craziness extended into Friday, when Brandt Snedeker showed up about 2 minutes late for his 8:10 a.m. tee time and was assessed a two-stroke penalty.
Snedeker thought he was teeing off at 8:20 and sprinted from the putting green to the tee when he realized his mistake. He didn’t get there quick enough to avoid the penalty.
“It’s embarrassing,” said Snedeker, who shot 73 with the extra strokes and was likely to miss the cut. “I feel like I’m 2 years old.”