McIlroy showing remarkable poise

Ian Hutchinson, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:41 PM ET

As Sweden’s Fredrik Jacobson launched a minor charge at Rory McIlroy yesterday at Congressional, the talking heads at NBC Sports, whose interests aren’t best-served by a runaway U.S. Open, commented that McIlroy couldn’t afford to be too casual about the comfortable six-shot lead he carried into the third round.

Of course, there was no indication that McIlroy was doing any such thing, nor was it evident that his nerves were taking over, which is the knock against him since he put up that nasty 80 in the final round of Masters way back in April. If that had happened, McIlroy never would have heard the end of it.

About all McIlroy was doing was carrying on what he started in his first two magnificent rounds and it worked to perfection as he increased his lead to eight, while all Jacobson could muster was a bogey and a bunch of pars on his final six holes.

With McIlroy posting the lowest 54-hole score in tournament history, Y.E. Yang is still the biggest dot in the rear view mirror, but hardly looks like the guy who stared down Tiger Woods to win the 2009 PGA Championship. One shot behind Yang is the trio of Lee Westwood, Jason Day and Robert Garrigus. Second is about the highest elevation that anybody but McIlroy can now hope for, despite the clichés.

“They don't give trophies away on Fridays and Saturdays” insisted Westwood.

True enough, but while the showers that have moved through Congressional served up soft fairways and greens for Westwood, Day and Jacobson to rise up the leaderboard, it can’t erase the bloated numbers they put up earlier in the tournament.

McIlroy’s 68 was not the best score yesterday, but at 22 years old, he showed remarkable poise in realizing that he didn’t need to be the big show. His only blemish was a bogey on 10 against the four birdies he scattered through the rest of his scorecard.

McIlroy’s whole act at Congressional is beginning to get repetitious, which is exactly what he needs to exorcise the demons of Augusta.

Yesterday, we were talking about Yang’s comeback against Tiger at the PGA Championship, but the scene tomorrow is more likely similar to Woods’ 15-stroke win at the 2000 U.S. Open, or something close to it.

That being the case, nobody will say McIlroy’s being too casual when he’s hoisting the trophy on Sunday.

THE RACE FOR SECOND

It was moving day at Congressional, but all the moving was only jockeying for second place, unless something unthinkable happens. Imagine, if you will, what a different story this U.S. Open would be if Westwood, Jacobson and Jason Day had played with the consistency of McIlroy over the first three days. Contrast Westwood’s 65 yesterday to his 75 on Thursday. Compare Jacobson’s third round 66 to his 74 in the first round and Day’s 65 yesterday to his 71-72 in the first two rounds. Take McIlroy out of the equation and seven players would be within four shots of the lead … Another player who shot magnificently yesterday was Webb Simpson, with a 66 despite taking a penalty on the par three 13th, but he came right back and posted a birdie on the next hole, one of seven he recorded on the day. After starting in a tie for 56th, Simpson is one-under for the tournament after shooting 75-71 in the first two rounds. Webb, ranked 68th in the world, lost on the second hole of a playoff against Bubba Watson at the recent Zurich Classic at New Orleans.

MEANWHILE, BACK IN THE PACK

Watson and Calgary’s Wes Heffernan aren’t following the standard wisdom that par is your friend with each getting streaky with their birdies and bogeys. Watson followed three consecutive bogeys off the start with three straight birdies between four and six. Watson’s numbers ballooned on the back nine, which began with a double bogey on 11 and he added two more bogeys against just one birdie to finish at three-over on the day and seven over for the tournament … Heffernan, who nobody seems to be able to find a photo of, was also mega-streaky, following a double bogey on two with two consecutive bogeys, then a couple of straight birdies. On the back nine, Heffernan alternated bogeys and double bogeys on the final four holes to finish at eight over on the day and 12 over for the tournament … Luke Donald is at seven over for the tournament after shooting a 74 yesterday, but says it has nothing to do with the pressure of being No. 1 in the world. “There's certainly a little more pressure and more expectation. I certainly didn't feel actually nervous out there. I think it's been a busy few weeks. I played four in a row, actually had a great stretch and won a tournament and was forced to take a little bit of time off last week and probably (it) just wasn't quite the preparation I would have liked. … Phil Mickelson is unlikely to salvage anything out of this U.S. Open after a 77 yesterday left him at seven over for the tournament.


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