Not once during the 16 years he has played golf professionally has Rory McIlroy won a tournament in Scotland. He’s been close, of course, more than once. Five top-four finishes in the Dunhill Links Championship represent strong evidence of consistent excellence. But throw in three top-three finishes in the Open Championship—two at St. Andrews, one at Carnoustie—and the Northern Irishman’s regular ventures into Caledonia surely represent much frustration.
Still, all of that might be about to end. With two rounds to play in the Genesis Scottish Open at the Renaissance Club, McIlroy is atop the leaderboard as he seeks what would be the 36th victory of his already highly successful career. The World No. 3 is at 10-under-par 130 and a shot clear of Tyrrell Hatton, Ben An and Tom Kim.
As many as 25 others are within five strokes of the leader, whose second-round 66 was highlighted by five birdies, all converted amidst a stream of squally showers that eventually morphed into a steady downpour.
“I felt really good about my swing all day,” said McIlroy, whose stellar long game was the dominant feature of his play. “I found something at the Travelers. I’ve got a really comfortable swing thought at the minute and I’ve carried it with me over the last few weeks. It has helped my iron play and wedge play in particular. Both have shown up over the last couple of days.
“My putter was really good yesterday. I holed some good ones but it was more about my ball-striking today. It felt like four-under was probably the worst I could have shot out there. It is nice to know that both ends of the game are in good shape. And yes, I’m in a great position going into the weekend. I wish I could be a couple of shots better, but overall I am really pleased with how the last two days have gone.”
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There were even some nice words for the Renaissance course, designed by Tom Doak and recently modified by Padraig Harrington. Never a huge fan of the layout, McIlroy has been mollified by his strong play so far.
“You do start to like places when you play better at them,” said McIlroy with a smile. “Look, it has started to play a little more linksy and a little more challenging over the last couple of years. I know they’ve made some tweaks and it’s nice to play in a little breeze. The rough is up a little bit. But it’s not too penal and gives you a feel for what real links golf is like, especially going into next week’s Open Championship.”
Looking not quite so far forward, McIlroy was making nothing but positive noises about his prospects over the next 36 holes, although he was careful not to make too many predictions. With the forecast hovering between dire and awful, the field will tee off between 7-9 a.m. local time off two tees in three balls, all in an attempt to beat the rain and gales dominating the forecast.
“My aim is to take whatever the golf course is going to give us,” McIlroy said. “I don’t really have any expectations. It would be silly of me to pick a potential target score. So really it’s just about embracing the conditions and making the best of them. I know I’m playing well enough tee-to-green to give myself some looks and hang in there. So I’m pretty confident going into the next two days no matter what the weather throws at us.”