|Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy celebrates after chipping in for eagle on the eighth hole during the second round of the U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club on Friday. (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)
BETHESDA, MARYLAND - When Rory McIlroy rolled in an eight-footer for birdie on No. 17 Friday, it put him in a place no one had ever been before -- a stunning 13-under par at a U.S. Open.
Even though he gave it right back with a double-bogey at the dramatic 18th after an overly aggressive shot landed in the water, the 22-year-old still took his place in the history books.
McIlroy's sizzling second-round 66 at Congressional Country Club, following a 65 Thursday, gave him the lowest 36-hole score in U.S. Open history at 131, ahead of Ricky Barnes' 132 in 2009 at Bethpage.
McIlroy leads Y.E. Yang by six strokes, tying Tiger Woods’ record for biggest 36-hole lead in a U.S. Open, set in 2000.
"I don't know what to say," a humbled McIlroy said about setting the record, as he considered all of the greats who have played in a U.S. Open.
"I've played two really good rounds of golf, but I know I have to play another two really good rounds of golf if I want to win this tournament, so that's all I can really think about."
After going six-under in the first round, McIlroy figured the USGA would find a way to make sure it didn't happen again. "It's a U.S. Open," he said. "They know how to make the golf course a lot more difficult than it was (Thursday)."
After Friday's round, however, it was McIlroy 2, USGA O.
The USGA prides itself on providing the "toughest test of golf." So it had better do something quickly -- tougher pin placements, move the tee blocks back, disqualify McIlroy for making them look silly -- anything to avoid embarrassment or criticism, which it usually gets for making a course too hard.
If the young Northern Irishman continues to shine, a winning score approaching 20-under par would not be out of the question. Tiger Woods' record-low winning score of 12-under at Pebble Beach in 2000 certainly is in jeopardy.
McIlroy made it look effortless Friday, playing alongside Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson -- both of whom struggled at times. Mickelson had a decent round going but found water on 18 and settled for a two-under 69 to leave him at one-over par for the tournament. Johnson shot an even-par 71 to remain at four-over.
After starting his day with three consecutive pars, McIlroy got it going by making a 25-foot birdie putt on the fourth hole. He got another birdie on the par-5 sixth and then drew the first huge roar of the day when he eagled the par-4 eighth, landing his approach with a sand wedge beyond the hole and spinning it back into the cup.
His effort even drew applause from Mickelson, who has made a career with wedge shots like that.
After a birdie on the 14th hole, McIlroy had a chance for another eagle on the 579-yard par 5 when his 4-iron landed pin high about 10 feet away. He narrowly missed the putt and settled for birdie. On 17, his 7-iron carried just over the bunker and he holed a 12-foot uphill putt to get it to 13-under.
On 18, McIlroy said he wasn't trying to get cute with his second shot, from the left rough -- it just got away on him.
"The lie was decent," he said. "I was just trying to play out to the front right portion of the green. And I just got a little bit of grass caught in between the clubface and the ball. The club turned over a bit and that really was all that happened."
Coming into the tournament, McIlroy had predicted a score of three- or four-under par would win it.
After his first round Thursday he said he gladly would take six-under at tournament's end. "I still think something around two-, three-, four-under par, something like that, is going to have a good chance," he said at the time. "Even something around level par is probably going to come very close on Sunday."
We're afraid not, barring a total collapse.