Shane Lowry overcomes ‘mental battle’ to join Rory McIlroy on US PGA leaderboard
Irish duo in contention at second major of the golfing year
Shane Lowry can't wait for the weekend after he produced his best putting performance of the season to join Rory McIlroy on the fringes of contention in the PGA Championship at Oak Hill.
The former Open champion made nearly 100 feet of putts in a seven-birdie round to get back to level par for the championship and 10th place with McIlroy, who birdied the last for a 69, setting up the likelihood of all-Irish twosome on the first tee in round three.
They are just five shots behind leaders Scottie Scheffler, Corey Conners and Viktor Hovland, and while Lowry was disappointed to finish with two bogeys, he made six birdies in a scintillating eight-hole stretch from the eighth and feels he can contend with a big third-round performance at a punishing course he's fancied since he first saw it on Monday.
"I stood on the first tee in practice and said I like this place," Lowry said. "I was like, I fancy this place. I was disappointed with yesterday (73), but I knew it was only one day and sort of felt going out this morning, if I can get under par for the tournament with nine holes to play on Sunday, you never know what might happen.
"It is a big day tomorrow. I thrive on weekends like this."
He was five under for the day with two holes to play, but while poor drives led to two closing bogeys, he was looking only at the positives after a difficult start to the season on the greens he described as "a serious mental battle".
"Two bogeys finish is disappointing," said Lowry. "I got to four over after six holes, but look, we got a bit fortunate with the wind dying down, the bit of rain wasn't nice, but it made it play a little bit easier.
"I played well around the turn, made some great birdies. Couple of poor tee shots on 17, 18, but that's what happens on this course. There are holes you need to hit good tee shots, and they are two of them, but yes, I have done well, only five back."
Lowry is ranked 189th for strokes gained putting on the PGA TOUR and admits he's sensitive about being asked about it.
"I have not been doing well this year and I have had a serious mental battle (on putting)," he admitted. "I have been working so hard to get myself physically and mentally in the right place.
"It felt like I turned the corner at Quail Hollow, even though I missed the cut."
He got off to a great start, making birdie from four feet at the first before following bogeys at the third and sixth with six birdies in eight holes.
After brushing in a 12-footer at the eighth, he rolled in back-to-back 16-footers at the 10th and 11th and an 18-footer at the 12th to move into the top 10. But the birdies kept coming.
After he found the front left bunker at the drivable 14th, he splashed out to 18 inches, then hit a wedge eight feet left of the hole at the 133-yard 15th and made that too.
"When I birdied 15 to get to two under for the tournament, six under form seven to 15, I would have taken your hand off for that this morning," he said. "I didn't drive it great, missed more fairways than I would have liked. Other than that, it was pretty good.
"There are certain other parts of my game I am not happy with. I haven't chipped the ball as well; I haven't driven the ball as well as I did in practice.
"If I can do that this weekend and match it up with everything else, I will be happy."
World number two Scheffler and Canadian Conners shot 68s in the afternoon showers and Hovland a 67 to share the lead on five-under.
They are two strokes clear of first-round leader Bryson DeChambeau (71) and former Walker Cup star Justin Suh (68), with four-time Major winner Brooks Koepka lurking on two-under alongside England's Callum Tarren (67), after coming home in 31 for a 66.
Canada's Taylor Pendrith (69) and Justin Rose (70) are tied eighth on one under with Lowry and McIlroy at the head of a nine-man posse in a tie for 10th on level par.
Holywood star McIlroy looked to be going in the wrong direction when he bogeyed the sixth and seventh to go three over par,
But he rolled in a 45-footer at the ninth and a 16-footer at the last and admitted he was surprised to find himself in position to end his near nine-year Major drought.
"I stayed really patient today," McIlroy said. "I think my patience was rewarded with a couple of good breaks and a couple of birdies coming in."
He added: "I think how terribly I've felt over the golf ball over the last two days, the fact that I'm only five back -- yeah, not saying I could be up there with one of my best performances, but when I holed that putt at the last, I looked at the board, and I thought, I can't believe I'm five back.
"I guess that's a good thing because I know if I can get it in play off the tee, that's the key to my success over the weekend. If I can get the ball in play off the tee, I'll have a shot."
Pádraig Harrington had a colourful opening nine as he mixed four birdies with three birdies to get back to one-over for the tournament, but he double-bogeyed the seventh coming home to card a 71 he feels leaves him a long way back on three-over.
"You know, six is such an intense hole we're thinking about it for two or three holes. You play it well, you get up on seven, and you just make a mess," said Harrington, who is tied for 35th.
"I hit four shots stiff early in the round and that's the short of stuff I should be shooting. It looked like I could get back to level par on that front nine. Obviously, at level par, you are in with a great chance.
"Three over par is a long way back. I'll be literally one of the first out tomorrow. It's a long way off.”
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