McIlroy feels better, leads by two shots
MEXICO CITY — Sore ribs or sore stomach, it doesn't seem to matter to Rory McIlroy. After being gone for seven weeks, he took a two-shot lead into the weekend at the Mexico Championship with a chance to return to No. 1 in the world.
McIlroy holed out from 156 yards for eagle on the 14th hole, part of a three-hole stretch Friday when he seized control at Chapultepec Golf Club. McIlroy missed putts inside 6 feet on his last three holes — one for par, two for birdie — and still shot a 6-under 65.
"Look, I'm in a great position," McIlroy said. "But I felt like I could have been a few more ahead."
He got 14 hours of sleep to help overcome a stomach virus and said he was feeling a little better.
His game looked better than ever.
McIlroy was at 9-under 133, two shots ahead of Phil Mickelson (68), Justin Thomas (66) and Ross Fisher (68).
Mickelson will be in the final group on the weekend for the first time since his runner-up finish to Henrik Stenson at Royal Troon in the British Open. And he got there without his longtime caddie, Jim "Bones" Mackay, who fell ill on fourth hole of the second round and turned the bag over to Mickelson's younger brother, Tim.
Thomas, who won the opening two events of the year in Hawaii, had seven birdies and three bogeys over his last 13 holes.
McIlroy is playing for the first time since losing a playoff Jan. 15 in South Africa. He was diagnosed with a hairline fracture of his rib the next day and missed four tournaments on his schedule to make sure it healed properly. There seems to be little debate about that.
He showed that blend of power and balance in the thin air of Mexico City and struck his irons close for so much of the day. His longest birdie putt was 12 feet, and McIlroy had reason to lament the ones that got away. He missed four putts from 6 feet or closer.
"I just felt like I had a bit more energy. I had a bit more pep in my step," McIlroy said. "I wasn't just trying to get through the round today, I was trying to build on the score that I had and it was nice to feel like that again."
He wasn't alone in missing short putts.
Dustin Johnson, in his debut at No. 1, still watched a number of putts wiggle to the hole on the poa greens and a few more went in. He birdied three of his last four holes for a 66 and was among those just three shots behind and very much in the picture.
Johnson can keep the top ranking if he finishes in the top four.
Missing from the mix was Jordan Spieth, who put on a highlight show when he chipped in for eagle on the 15th, and then played a clever pitch some 30 feet away from the flag and let it roll down the hill and into the cup for a birdie.
That more than wiped out a double bogey on the par-5 11th, but momentum stalled in a big way. Spieth went long at No. 1 into the hedges and out-of-bounds, leading to a triple bogey. He shot a 72 and was 1-over 143 10 shots behind.
LPGA: At Singapore, Inbee Park birdied the final hole for a 5-under 67 and a one-stroke lead over Michelle Wie, Ariya Jutanugarn and Hur Mi-Jung in the HSBC Women's Champions.
Park made a double bogey on the 12th hole, the South Korean star's only blemish in two rounds at Sentosa, and rebounded with birdies on 14 and 18. The Olympic champion had a 10-under 134 total.
Wie followed her opening 66 with a bogey-free 69. Hur shot 67, and Jutanugarn had a 68.
Top-ranked Lydia Ko (68) was 7 under.