McIlroy feeling confident in the lead at Augusta

Rory McIlroy is making his third appearance at Augusta.
Fred Vuich/SI

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Three-time major champion Padraig Harrington has backed second-round leader Rory McIlroy to win the Masters. “I don’t see why he can’t win. If he does, there will be another name thrown into that list of players who can win the most majors,” Harrington said. “He loves being there. At age 21, he should view this as a great opportunity.”

But there’s a warning for McIlroy: he has Tiger Woods on his tail going into the weekend. McIlroy didn’t seem overly concerned. “I don’t really care what anyone else does. I don’t need to know. It will be great for the tournament if he’s up there. But I’m two shots ahead and in a better position,” he said. “I look down at everyone in this field, and at some point, I’ve beaten them before. So there’s no reason why I can’t beat them again.”

How’s that for the confidence of youth? “If you start thinking about anybody else and let your mind wander, you’re going to lose a couple of shots,” he said.

A late surge from Woods took him to seven under par, just three shots behind McIlroy. Woods looked and sounded confident but is well aware of the threat posed by his young rival. “We all now he’s got an inordinate amount of talent,” Woods said. “It was just a matter of time before he started to play well like this in the majors”

McIlroy hit 10 out of 14 fairways and 15 of 18 greens in regulation in for a 69. He has not three-putted once and has dropped only one stroke in 36 holes. “It would have been nice to be bogey-free, but I’m happy with where I’m at, and my game feels really good,” he said.

Playing in the Young Dudes threeball with Rickie Fowler and Jason Day, the Northern Irishman paid tribute to the Augusta crowd. “Collectively for the last two days we are 23-under par. We played some really good golf out there, and we fed off one another, and we got a bit of momentum early and the crowd got behind us on the back nine and really pushed us along. Hopefully there’s more to come over the weekend. I didn’t expect to shoot another 65 out there today (his first round score). I knew that I played pretty much flawlessly yesterday. I played pretty similar today to be honest. I’ve got myself into great position.”

But the 21-year-old admitted that he has no experience to draw on from this exalted position in only his third Masters. “I just need to start fresh and give myself opportunities for birdies, not think about where I’m at on the leaderboard or that it’s Augusta National or that it’s the Masters.” Sounds like he’s already thinking about it.

Defending champion Phil Mickelson said it was not a shock to see McIlroy leading. “He’s playing great playing, he’s a great player. He hits the ball long, I expect him to play well on this golf course throughout his career and it’s not a surprise.” But the three-times Masters winner is not, as you would expect, writing off his chances of chasing McIlroy down, coming from eight shots back at 2 under par. “There’s a lot of golf left in this tournament and I’m going to be making a run at him and the other guys ahead of me here on Saturday,” Mickelson said.