After a Friday 67, Rory McIlroy sits two shots back of Fowler and will be in the mix on the weekend at a major for the first time in 2023. McIlroy has scorched the front nine to the tune of back-to-back 30s in the first two rounds. He has used his driver to open up opportunities on the par 5s and taken advantage of the many scoring opportunities at Los Angeles Country Club’s North Course. The course gives a distinct advantage to players, like McIlroy, that draw the golf ball off the tee. Holes such as the 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 12th, 13th, 16th and 18th all favor a player that can move it right to left, and Rory has unleashed monstrous drives on some of those holes.
But while the driving has been impressive, what’s stood out most to me through 36 holes has been Rory’s patience. Despite a slow start on Friday where some good putts didn’t drop and a few misses off the tee led to bogeys, McIlroy avoided any big mistakes that would cause him to tumble down the leaderboard. Rory is bound to pile up birdies at LA North; the key for him is limiting bogeys, and so far, he’s made just five. (Maybe more importantly, he hasn’t made any doubles.) The George Thomas design is filled with half-par holes and all of McIlroy’s bogeys have come on the holes that skew difficult. On Friday, it was the 230-yard par-3 4th, 299-yard par-3 11th, and brutally long par-4 13th and 17th that gave Rory trouble. These “bogeys” were, in actuality, more like half-shot drops.
On Thursday and Friday, Rory showcased the benefits of his (sometimes) risk-averse gameplan on the long par-4 5th hole. The fairway slopes dramatically from left to right where Rory’s driver would land. So, instead of opting for the big stick on a 490+ yard uphill par 4, he’s gone with the shorter 3-wood and hit a flatter portion of the fairway. From that lie, he’s been able to attack the green more effectively even though he’s had to play a longer shot. Both days, he made birdie.
But Rory’s also been feasting on gettable holes. Through two rounds, he’s played the par 5s in 4 under and he birdied both the sub-400-yard par 4s on Friday. It’s hard to envision a day where Rory doesn’t birdie four or more holes at this course given his immense talent off the tee at a course that rewards both length and accuracy. Heading into the weekend, this feels like the best chance at a major that McIlroy has had in a long while (including last year’s near-miss at the Old Course) because of how the course fits his game and the wise strategies he’s employing. So, gamblers, Rory fans, I feel now is the time to push your chips in. I am ready to be hurt again.
This piece originally appeared in The Fried Egg newsletter. Subscribe for free and receive golf news and insight every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.