Magical McIlroy leads by six at US Open
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Last Updated: Saturday, June 18, 2011, 08:38
  
Bethesda, Maryland: Rory McIlroy matched the biggest 36-hole lead in US Open history with a five-under par 66 for a six-shot edge, but found water at 18 to keep an epic round from being one for the ages.

Ignited by an eagle from the eighth fairway, the 22-year-old Ulsterman stood on 11-under 131 after two rounds at Congressional Country Club, where play was halted by sunset with 21 players yet to finish due to a 42-minute storm delay.

"It has been very, very good," McIlroy said on Friday. "It's very nearly the best I can play."

McIlroy also broke the US Open 36-hole record of 132 set in 2009 by American Ricky Barnes, but had he closed with a par rather than a double bogey he would have broken Nick Faldo's 36-hole major mark of 130 from the 1992 British Open.

"You can't dwell on it," McIlroy said. "I played 35 very good holes and that's what I need to focus on."

South Korean Yang Yong-Eun fired a 69 to stand second on 137. No other rival was within nine shots of McIlroy and no one to finish Saturday could stop him from tying the record 36-hole margin of Tiger Woods in 2000 at Pebble Beach.

"I've played two really good rounds of golf but I know I have to play another two if I want to win," McIlroy said. "I have to keep it going over the next couple of days. I'm halfway there, but there is still a long way to go."

Late-starter Yang kept early starter McIlroy from matching the all-time 36-hole major lead, Henry Cotton's nine-stroke edge from the 1934 British Open, but had no clue how far ahead McIlroy had leaped.

"It being such a big gap in the first place, I just didn't really mind what Rory ended up with," Yang said. "I didn't even know his score when I teed off. I just played my game. It actually enabled me to concentrate on my own game."

McIlroy became the first man to reach 13-under par at any stage in a US Open with his fifth birdie of the day at 17, but then came the mishap on 18, a reminder how fast trouble can strike when even par is meant to be exceptional.

"I got a bit of grass caught between the club face and the ball and it just turned over a little bit," McIlroy said. "Unfortunately it went into the water. Just one of those things."

But it was a reminder that McIlroy, contending in his fourth major in a row, has been down this path before and been found wanting.

McIlroy opened April's Masters with a 65 to co-lead and led by four after 54 holes and one with nine to play before a back-nine fall to an 80. He also led last year's British Open after a 63 but had an 80 in a wind-swept round two.

"I took a few things away from the Masters that I felt I could incorporate into my game and I said we'll find out how they go when I get myself into that position again," McIlroy said.

"We'll see how it goes over the next couple of days. It's a big challenge. Every time I keep myself leading in majors, I'm getting more and more comfortable.

"You are going to be comfortable when you are hitting great shots."

On a morning when no rival could mount a challenge, McIlroy's greatest shot was an amazing 113-yard wedge shot for an eagle from the eighth fairway.

McIlroy launched the ball to the back fringe of the green and watched from the fairway as the ball slowly rolled back 25 feet and into the cup for a two.

Lifting his arms into the air, McIlroy looked skyward and smiled as playing partner Phil Mickelson, a four-time major champion and five-time US Open runner-up, could only applaud in amazement at the feat by his playing partner.

"He's striking it flawlessly and putted great on the greens," Mickelson said. "His first two rounds were very impressive."

Spain's Sergio Garcia and Americans Zach Johnson, Brandt Snedeker, Robert Garrigus and Matt Kuchar shared third in the clubhouse on 140, nine adrift of McIlroy.

"If he keeps playing the way he's playing, we're all playing for second," Snedeker said.

No American holds a major title and unless one wins this week, it will mark the longest run of majors in the modern era without a US winner.

"The pressure is off me," Johnson said. "I'm not the one that's supposed to win it right now."

The past 10 majors have been won by 10 different players and seven of the past eight majors have been taken by first-time major winners, streaks McIlroy would continue with a triumph.

The projected cut line was on 146, with World No. 1 Luke Donald of England among those set to make it on the number.

Those set to miss the weekend included Australians Adam Scott and Scott Hend, Englishmen Paul Casey, Ian Poulter and Justin Rose, South Korean K.J. Choi and South African Ernie Els, the winner at Congressional in the 1997 Open.

Bureau Report


First Published: Saturday, June 18, 2011, 08:38


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