PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – He wore khaki pants with a light-blue belt, a blue shirt and a white cap with "Rors" embroidered on the back. Fans raised their cell phones to take his picture; security demanded they be holstered. One of the fans wore the Irish tricolour. Another two wore poofy brown wigs and white T-shirts on which they'd scrawled, "Kiss me, I'm Rory."
Rory McIlroy is not leading the Honda Classic at PGA National, but he may as well be. He shot a three-under 67 to get within a shot of the lead Friday, which injected plenty of excitement into an otherwise sleepy South Florida afternoon.
"It was definitely a lot tougher than it was yesterday morning," McIlroy said after making birdies on three of his last five holes, including the par-5 18th, to get to seven under, tied for third place with journeyman Dicky Pride (67).
They are within a shot of co-leaders Tom Gillis (64) and Justin Rose (66).
Three players were at six under, highlighted by diminutive lefty Brian Harman's morning 61, which broke the course record by three shots.
A new part-time resident at nearby Old Palm, McIlroy would move to No. 1 with a victory this weekend, replacing Luke Donald, who is not playing the Honda. There's still much work to do; in McIlroy's three previous starts at the Honda he's made the cut each time but has never finished better than T13.
"I had a few chances early on and didn't take them," McIlroy said. "You know, sort of kept making pars and making pars, and broke that run with a bogey on 13, which was frustrating. But to bounce back from that and birdie three of the last five holes was nice and puts me in great position going into the weekend."
Tiger Woods shot a two-under 68 to make the cut, and was seven behind the co-leaders, as was world No. 3 Lee Westwood (69) , who played in the same group as Woods and late addition Miguel Angel Carballo (77, missed cut).
"Probably the worst I've hit the ball in months," said Woods, who on this day was helped, not hurt, by his putting, totaling just 24 strokes on the greens.
McIlroy moved along the autograph line slowly, methodically, signing for his fans. His girlfriend, tennis pro Caroline Wozniacki, who had watched some of his second round, had left the course to practice. One of the men in the McIlroy wigs, desperate for an autograph, kept getting boxed out, but McIlroy finally saw him and signed the back of his shirt, above the imagined world rankings of Monday, March 5, written in a Sharpie, designating McIlroy, of course, No. 1.
The sun was throwing long shadows, and many of those inside the clubhouse were making the turn at happy hour. McIlroy's face was a mixture of sunburn, windburn and suntan; his Irish complexion and the local climate will have to come to some sort of agreement on the right SPF. Keegan Bradley (68, five under) had played with McIlroy, but he'd already signed autographs and gone.
"Still a lot of golf left," McIlroy said. "I just need to keep doing the same things, try to drive the ball in the fairway and give myself loads of opportunities and try and take a few, because you don't need to make tons of birdies out here. You just have to keep the big numbers off your card."
In relatively benign conditions in the morning, Woods was erratic but birdied his last two holes to get to one under par for the tournament.
His round included a 2-iron that bounced off a spectator's head on the par-4 fourth hole, leading to a birdie, and a double-bogey five after he pulled his tee shot into the water on the fifth. He blew his drive about 30 yards right on the par-4 sixth hole, and when he and playing partners Westwood and Carballo were preparing to putt on the green, an apparently overheated fan fainted, stopping play.
The man was revived, and Woods went on to make his par putt of just under six feet. Before leaving the green he turned and asked, "You okay?" The man's female companion signaled that he was, although he was loaded into a stretcher and brought to an ambulance waiting behind the eighth tee.
"Well, I got it going, lost it, got it going, lost it and then got it going," said Woods, who hit eight of 14 fairways, and 10 of 18 greens in regulation.
"I think somebody can shoot 65 or 64 today," he added.
Few imagined a 61, least of all Harman. He was flabbergasted when he saw Davis Love III, who faded with a second-round 72, had posted a 64 Thursday.
Harman made an eagle, eight birdies and a bogey and zoomed from 107th place into a tie for fifth with Vaughn Taylor (66) and Jimmy Walker (67). Harman had a chance to become the sixth player to shoot 59 on Tour, but his bunker shot on the par-5 18th hole skirted the hole, and he missed his six-foot birdie putt.
"I've been working really hard on my game and just one of those crazy days where everything comes together," said Harman, 25, who was using a new driver. "Got off to a really hot start and just kept the pedal down all day. It was awesome."
After a few anxious moments, McIlroy's fans would probably agree.