If we told you that Rory McIlroy netted seven birdies on Friday, just a day after torching TPC River Highlands to the tune of eight Under-62s, you could call the game Curtains. Night night. Thanks for coming, everyone.
Unfortunately, you wouldn’t just be wrong, you’d be wrong in a comical, funny, and fun way. Not only is McIlroy not in the lead, but he’s six shots down, and it’s not because he made seven bogeys either.
In fact, through 11 holes, McIlroy had made just one bogey against six birdies, putting him at 13 under and leading the standings at the time. Then came the 12th hole, where McIlroy, the No. 2 ranked golfer in the world, transformed into a 15 handicap player who was playing with his future father-in-law for the very first time:
“It kind of came out of nowhere,” McIlroy said afterwards. “I haven’t done a big number like that – a few big numbers like that – in a long time. When you hit a tee shot like that at 12, the first one, it makes the second one pretty tough. You’re in some way sort of guard against the left one, and I missed it on the right. It was just one of those where I put myself in a great position in the tournament and three bad swings kind of cost me six shots, and I have all this work trying to catch up over the weekend. But at least I have time to do it.”
Hey, it happens, even to Rory, fucking McIlroy. It all added up to what should have been a tournament killer ocho, but McIlroy had been so good so far that he was still very much in contention. However, a double bogey 6 at the short par-4 15 quickly sucked some more life out of him.
McIlroy managed to birdie the 16th, then had a good look on the 17th and 18th, settling for back-to-back pars to complete a psycho par 70. A reminder of the quality of these guys: McIlroy made an 8 and a 6 on the back nine and again shot 39.
And yet, he is only six points behind Xander Schauffele, one behind second place. A front nine 30 on Saturday and suddenly he’ll be back where he was on the 12th tee on Friday. I wouldn’t put it in front of him.
On Thursday, Xander Schauffele hit all 18 greens in regulation en route to a seven-under 63. Friday ? Only 15 out of 18. For shame.
Despite those abysmal GIR numbers, Schauffele still managed to match his first-round score, opening up a five-stroke lead in the process. It’s the biggest 36-hole lead in the Travelers Championship since 1984, according to the PGA Tour.
“Anytime you can hit a lot of greens in any tournament, it makes it a little easier for you,” Schauffele said. “I feel like Austin [Kaiser, Schauffele’s caddie] and I’ve just been a little more diligent and a little more deliberate with our task when we’re over the golf ball and picking numbers and picking the right shot. So I think I’m very focused on that and not much else.”
After his first 63 of the week, Schauffele said his recent form was solid, but his father Stefan thought he had done too much tinkering. Thursday and Friday featured very little, he said.
“He [my dad] wants me to do what I did today. Just Austin and I work together, we focus a lot on court numbers,” Schauffele said Thursday. “Just numbers in general against me trying to tinker with my golf swing too much. It kind of allowed me to focus on the targets versus a kind of golf swing.”
It’s clearly working, and it puts Schauffele in a position to…expect…achieve his first solo, non-Olympic PGA Tour win since the 2019 Sentry Tournament of Champions. That’s an impossible phrase to type, given how good it is, but it’s accurate. It doesn’t go that far, of course.
“It’s only Friday,” he said. “We have 36 more holes, and I have to stay aggressive. It’s a course that leaves some birdies, and if you lead the pack and feel comfortable, people are going to hunt you down.”
McIlroy’s recent title defense at the RBC Canadian Open was one of the strangest in recent memory, not only because the wins were three years apart, but also because of what happened at the during these crazy, COVID-affected three years. If Harris English went on to defend their Travelers Championship title this weekend, it would be equally odd considering what English went through last year.
In the time since winning the Travelers, which he earned after an epic eight-hole playoff against Kramer Hickok, English notched a wacky solo fourth-place finish at WGC-FedEx St. Jude that included a collapse Sunday alongside Bryson DeChambeau. He then played a solid supporting role in the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits, going 1-2-0 in Team USA’s 19-9 match in Europe. That same week, a rules call came during matches regarding the Englishman’s altered putter grip, which he later had to change before the Sunday singles. After the Ryder Cup, he struggled in the fall due to hip problems, which he decided to undergo surgery, which ultimately led to a five-month layoff.
English, who before the operation was playing some of the best golf of his life, returned in early June to the Memorial, where he missed the cut with a pair of 77s. The US Open treated him a little better, l English opener with rounds of 73 and 69 before disappearing into T-61 at the weekend. Thursday at TPC River Highlands, an under-66 four was another great step on the way back, but Friday’s under-65 five confirmed he was close to regaining his form.
“The hip is better,” English said Friday. “The hardest thing is walking and playing. I feel like at home I can go and hit a bunch of balls on the range, but going up and down those hills and being on my feet for five or six hours is the hardest part.
“I feel like the more competitive rounds I play here, it’s just going to get stronger,” he added. “So I’m happy to have made the cut, to have made the weekend for two tournaments in a row. This is my third tournament back, so I’m excited to continue playing golf.
English did a little more than just make the cut. At nine under, he is part of a group of five players who are tied for second, a group that includes Ryder Cup teammate Patrick Cantlay.
“I was a little tired watching these guys on the couch,” English said. “Missing the majors hurt me a lot. I love playing the Masters. It definitely weighed in on my decision to have the surgery. I’m going to miss the Masters if I have the surgery. But that’s what it is , and I hope I can play a lot more of it. Really, I love playing competitive golf and I love being here with the guys competing, so I definitely missed it and it made me want to play even more. ‘be here.
If English returned to his pre-op form, which saw him claim two wins in 2021 and finish third in the US Open solo at Torrey Pines, there would be a lot more Masters, and a lot more Majors, in the near future.
If you haven’t read our Dan Rapaport’s profile on Morgan Hoffmann, you should drop what you’re doing and read it now. The overly long version, not to read, however, is that the road back to the PGA Tour has been a very long and very circuitous one for the former Oklahoma State Cowboy. Once the next big thing, his promising career was cut short by a diagnosis of muscular dystrophy, which forced him to give up golf, for the time being, in the fall of 2019.
He returned in April at RBC Heritage, narrowly missing the cut after rounds of 71 and 72. A 73-80 week at Wells Fargo in May meant another MC, meaning this week the Travelers Championship is his last chance to get his PGA. Visit card. He was down to just three starts on a major medical expansion, and that’s No. 3. Cutting the number down is fine, but he’ll need a miraculous weekend to have any chance of regaining his circuit card. . For now, it’s a start.