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Tiger-like McIlroy roars ahead, leaves course in tatters

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer
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BETHESDA, Md. -- Not that he's exactly long in the tooth now, but Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy was but a wee sprite as he watched the 2000 U.S. Open on television while visiting the United States at age 11.

He must have been an impressionable lad, because he's doing a darned good imitation of what he saw. In fact, it's a dead-ringer knockoff.

McIlroy was in San Diego, playing in the famous Junior Worlds event in 2000, as he watched Tiger Woods obliterate most of the Open scoring records at Pebble Beach, some of which had been on the books for generations. It was roundly called the greatest performance in golf history.

"Incredible," McIlroy said. "I mean, unbelievable."

Somewhere, some kid doubtlessly watched McIlroy play Congressional Country Club on Friday and said the same darned thing. At the tournament's halfway point, the Ulsterman is doing things not even Woods managed.

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It's a tad early to tell whether this week represents a passing of the torch, or just a torching of a U.S. Open venue, but McIlroy tore up the tournament record book to such a degree, they won't need to buy confetti if it's needed for a victory parade Sunday night.

"He was superb, wasn't he?" caddie J.P. Fitzgerald said in the clubhouse. "I witnessed some unbelievable golf shots today."

He witnessed history, too. Despite a mishap on the 18th that led to a double-bogey, McIlroy threw more red paint at the Open leaderboard than any player in the 111-year history of the event, which happens to include many marks set by Woods in 2000 at Pebble Beach.

After the round, as the records were reeled off, one by one, by a U.S. Golf Association official, McIlroy fought the urge to smirk, though he had surely earned the right. It made him quickly forget about the sloppy ending.

"It's funny," he said. "To me, it feels quite simple."

Hitting nearly every fairway and green, then making putts from across the Virginia state line, will do that for you.

"I don't really know what to say," McIlroy said.

Plenty of others had no such issue. Two-time major winner Dave Stockton started working with McIlroy on his putting stroke after the Masters, where McIlroy blew a four-stroke lead after 54 holes and shot 80 in the final round. The way he's playing at the moment, he could shoot 80 on Sunday this week and win by three.

As the sport searches for somebody with the panache and game to supplant the graybeards who have carried the game for the past 15 years, the quotable, affable McIlroy sure seems to fit the bill.

"He's in an elite class," Stockton said. "What has he missed, five greens [in two days]? He hits it in the fairway, he's long. It's the total package.

"You're looking at a guy who hit every fairway and every green basically, on a U.S. Open course. And oh, by the way, he made a bunch of putts."

The list of records bested by Rory McIlroy in the second round is certainly worth a smile. (AP)  
The list of records bested by Rory McIlroy in the second round is certainly worth a smile. (AP)  
USGA executive director Mike Davis was in the Congressional clubhouse as McIlroy finished, grinning from ear to ear, which caught some folks by surprise. After all, a venerable venue had just been kneecapped by a guy playing in only his 11th career major. Almost comically, the kid reached 10 under par after 26 holes -- reaching double figures under par exactly 13 holes faster than the next-quickest ever to scale that math mountain. The double-digit lead he enjoyed most of the day was reminiscent of that 2000 runaway by the former world No. 1.

"It's kind of like Tiger," Davis said excitedly.

So is all this: McIlroy has held a share of the lead at some juncture in the past four Grand Slam events contested. He has held the overnight lead in five of the six major championship rounds played this season. Of course, he hasn’t won any of them. Yet.

Davis hardly was offended by the complete annihilation of a storied course that is hosting the National Open for the third time. Far from it.

"This is what you want," Davis said, noting that no other players were blistering the Blue Course track. "When you hit good shots, you get rewarded. I think it's great."

That about captures it. McIlroy picked up two birdies on the front nine, then holed a wedge from 114 yards for eagle on the eighth to reach 10 under. As the ball trickled into the cup, he leaned back and looked heavenward as playing partner Phil Mickelson clapped from a few feet away.

"The guy is obviously capable of some amazing things," Fitzgerald said.

He kept pouring on the heat. He hit a pair of laser-beam approaches on the 14th and 16th holes that led to birdies, and it could have been the stuff of high-altitude nosebleeds. He missed two birdie attempts from inside 15 feet on the back nine, and missed a bogey putt from eight feet on the last.

Fitzgerald admitted to giving the kid the yardages, handing him a club and getting out of the way. "Pretty simple, yeah," Fitzgerald said. "But we know we're only halfway there. We're very much in the present. It's only Friday."

The only real gaffe came at the 18th, when McIlroy missed his third fairway and tried to run a 7-iron onto the green from the left rough. Instead, he hooked it into the greenside pond. He failed to get up and down and made double-bogey.

Bad news? Stockton said it was possibly a blessing very much in disguise. McIlroy had played an impressive 35 holes without a bogey, so that meant one more question he wasn't going to face after the round or a stat that might be hanging over his head on Saturday, Stockton said.

"Plus, I think he's going to be pissed," Stockton said.

If that's true, this is going to get ugly. It's already difficult to decide which of his jaw-dropping records set Friday was most impressive. With opening rounds of 65-66, he broke the 36-hole scoring record by a shot at 131. With a birdie on the 17th, he became the first player ever to reach 13 under during the staging of an Open.

At various points, he led by 10 strokes, causing Mickelson to nearly suffer whiplash. Mickelson was 4 under for much of the round, working on the second-best round of the day, and was getting run over.

On the back of McIlroy's golf cap, his nickname is stitched in capital letters, "Rors." After the peals of applause he heard on Friday, "Roars" is more like it.

Mickelson bolted off for the player dining room afterward and didn't comment on what he had witnessed, although he did speak to his longtime manager, Steve Loy. Mickelson pretty succinctly summarized the day.

"You can quote him on this: 'Awesome,'" Loy said with a laugh.

Even that seemed to be selling it short.

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