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Rory McIlroy heads into weekend of U.S. Open with commanding six-shot lead

McIlroy is at 11-under after second-round 66

- The Washington Times - Friday, June 17, 2011

The U.S. Open is a national championship. Halfway through, it's starting to feel a bit like a coronation.

Rory McIlroy reached the midpoint of his week at Bethesda's Congressional Country Club at 11-under after a second-round 66, enduring only a single misstep en route to a six-shot lead over Y.E. Yang.

"I'm feeling good," McIlroy said in a statement of the obvious that elicited laughs. "Feeling very good."

As well he should, especially as overnight thunderstorms further softened Congressional's greens and made them receptive to the Northern Ireland native's dissection of the course.

McIlroy and much of the field completed the second round, but 21 players will return early Saturday after darkness halted play shortly after 8 p.m.

McIlroy's handiwork over the first two days scribbled his name on a handful of U.S. Open records throughout an eventful morning highlighted by an eagle from the fairway at the 8th hole.

His two-round total of 131 broke Ricky Barnes' two-year-old record for 36 holes at a U.S. Open by a stroke. He matched Tiger Woods' record six-shot edge after two rounds in the 2000 Open at Pebble Beach. He is the first player in the event's century-plus history to reach 10-under in the second round, and the first to reach 13-under in any round.

Heck, he's only the fifth player to reach 10-under at any stage of a U.S. Open. Woods (2000) and Jim Furyk (2003) went on to win, while both Gil Morgan (1992) and Barnes (2009) eventually faded.

Any potential rivals are far in arrears of the 22-year-old, who led after the first three rounds of the Masters two months ago before imploding with a final round 80. At this rate, McIlroy might be able to withstand even an extended hiccup.

"It's crazy, isn't it?" said Steve Stricker (2-over), the world's highest-ranked American." But there's a long ways to go yet. I mean, just got to keep hanging in there and keep trying to shoot under par. He's got to come back. The way he's playing now, it doesn't seem like he'll do that, but you've just got to keep fighting and see what happens. But pretty incredible what he's done so far."

McIlroy followed a simple formula throughout his 24-hour shredding of the classic Congressional layout. Fairway, green, putt. Fairway, green, putt.

Over and over and over again.

McIlroy hit 20 of 28 fairways in the first two days. He was on 32 of 36 greens. And there are no obvious hints of any looming threats, even though McIlroy's run of 35 straight holes without a bogey ended when he endured a detour into the water at No. 18 that culminated with a double bogey.

Yang shot in the 60s for the second straight day, carding a 69 on an afternoon during which a 42-minute rain delay almost perfectly bisected his round. The 2009 PGA Championship winner had four birdies and two bogeys in what would typically account for an ideal 18 holes at the U.S. Open.

At least one without McIlroy's dominance. Yang was the only player to finish the day within eight shots of the lead. Five players — 2007 Masters champ Zach Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Robert Garrigus, Matt Kuchar and Brandt Snedeker — are at 2-under.

For a U.S. Open, it's a stellar score at the midpoint. Yet surely there will be some temptation to attempt force things on the weekend with such a substantial deficit.

"Not at all," Garcia said. "I have bigger worries than Rory McIlroy."

He might be the only one.

The largest deficit an eventual U.S. Open winner overcame after 36 holes was 11 shots, and the rest of the field sans perhaps Yang will probably require McIlroy to struggle on the weekend to earn a shot at legitimate contention.

McIlroy, who shot a bogey-free 65 Thursday, generated a signature shot to go with his sublime play at No. 8. His wedge hit the back of the green, then spun back more than 15 feet before tumbling into the cup. It left McIlroy with a look of bewildered amusement and earned him applause from playing partner Phil Mickelson, who shot 69 to get to 1-over.

Later, McIlroy followed consecutive birdies at Nos. 15 and 16 with an approach stuck on the front of the green at the 17th. McIlroy slightly grimaced and casually wiggled his shoulders before walking up and draining a 15-foot putt to reach 13-under.

That peak didn't last much longer, but his lead will linger well into the weekend. Halfway to completely shoving his Masters meltdown into history's dustbin, McIlroy's precision and ability to incorporate past miscues into future success are wearing well at Congressional.

"I don't really know what to say," McIlroy said. "It's been two very, very good days of golf. I put myself in a great position going into the weekend. But I know probably better than anyone else what can happen."

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