It’s been a long time since either Rickie Fowler or Rory McIlroy played in a final pairing on a Sunday. Today, they do it together.
Rory McIlroy has spent the last two days playing almost perfect golf, just days after claiming that he is the best player in the world when he plays as he is capable.
After a lovely, bogey-free round on Friday, a 5-under 67, McIlroy had another blemish-free round yesterday, sinking eight birdies and final hole eagle to go 10-under and put himself very much in contention at The Summit Club where we head into the last day of the CJ Cup.
“I just wanted to go out there and play a good round of golf,” McIlroy said. “I knew that I was capable of shooting lower than I have shot the last couple of days, but you never know. Every hole basically on this course is a birdie chance, so you just try to put it in play, give yourself a putt at it on the green and go from there.”
McIlroy’s 62 yesterday equalled his best score on Tour since shooting the same in the third round of the 2019 WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational, a round that included five consecutive birdies.
He had a similar run yesterday with six birdies dropping in seven holes between the third and the ninth. The back nine was slightly less eventful, but Rory picked up shots at the 12th, and 14th then landed his 2nd shot on the par-5 18, just seven yards from the hole, before sinking a lovely eagle to sign off for the day.
McIlroy was understandably in excellent spirits following his bogey-free round of 10-under.
“I played an eight-hole stretch yesterday in even par; I made eight pars in a row. It was nice to finish with a birdie last night,” McIlroy said. “Then today I played a stretch of golf, played nine holes in 6 under and all of a sudden you feel a little better about yourself. Yeah, I mean, the big thing is I’ve played the last two days keeping it in the short stuff, and I haven’t made any bogeys. That’s huge.”
“I said to Harry (Harry Diamond, Rory’s caddie) yesterday, I can’t remember the last time I played a round of golf without a bogey, and now I’ve played two rounds in a row, so that’s nice to see.”
McIlroy will no doubt have been reminded by now of the last time he played a round without a bogey, and it wasn’t too long ago. He shot a 7-under 65 at the BMW Championship as recently as August. It has been almost two years since he shot consecutive bogey-free rounds though; it was the first weekend of November 2019 at Shanghai’s WGC-HSBC Champions Sheshan International.
McIlroy won that week in Shanghai, and he will be desperate to do the same this week, starting today two shots back from leader Rickie Fowler who also had a great round yesterday. Nine birdies in total, five on the front nine and four on the back to leave Fowler two clear of McIlroy and three clear of Adam Scott, Robert Streb and Abraham Ancer.
“I haven’t been there a lot the last couple of years, so it’s nice to be back in that position,” Fowler said. “So to feel the emotions again on the back nine, being around and then in the lead, it was great to see that I was still executing and hitting the shots that I wanted to. It’s been a long time coming. It’s been a long road, tough times. We’re not done.”
It was a day of simple golf from Fowler; there hasn’t been a lot of that from him for a few years now. He failed to qualify for the FedEx Cup for the first time in his career and needed a sponsor exemption to participate at The Summit Club this week.
Today could be a massive step in the right direction for Fowler. He hopes this season will see him return to the upper reaches of the world rankings and regularly get back into tournament contention alongside the game’s elite. Alongside him, today, in what could be the start of the road back, will be McIlroy and Ancer.