|Rory McIlroy birdies three of his final four holes to match his lowest PGA Tour round this year. (AP)|
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Rory McIlroy snapped his string of three straight missed cuts in style Friday, shooting a 5-under 65 to take the lead into the weekend at the St. Jude Classic.
McIlroy came to Memphis looking to tune up his game before heading to San Francisco for his U.S. Open title defense at The Olympic Club. He birdied three of his final four holes, and had an eagle, five birdies and two bogeys to match his lowest PGA Tour round this year.
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With a birdie on No. 18, McIlroy reached 7 under to break out of a four-way tie for the lead.
"It's nice to see my name on that part of the leaderboard," McIlroy said. "It's not nice when you're struggling to make the cut on a Friday afternoon. It was great. It's nice to be through to the weekend obviously. It's obviously even nicer to be leading and have a great chance."
Jeff Maggert, tied for the first-round lead with John Merrick, shot a 68 to match J.B. Holmes (64) and Kevin Stadler (65) at 6 under. Merrick had a 69 to join Chad Campbell (67) and Kevin Kisner (66) at 5 under.
Davis Love III, the Americans' Ryder Cup captain, had a 68 and was tied with Padraig Harrington (68) at 4 under. John Daly birdied his first three holes on his back nine to get to 5 under but finished with a 69 and was at tied at 3 under -- making his fourth cut in five events.
No one has ever won a PGA Tour event, then followed up the next week by winning the U.S. Open. After playing only two rounds each at The Players Championship, the BMW PGA Championship in England and then the Memorial last week, McIlroy isn't thinking about history. His goal in Memphis is playing as much competitive golf as possible while honing his game.
"I saw a lot of positive signs with my ball striking. Hit a lot of good iron shots and drivers. So that was something that I was really working on the last couple of weeks and feels like it's coming together for me. So excited to be in this position for the weekend. This is really what I wanted heading into next week," McIlroy said.
"For the time being, my mind is focused on trying to win this golf tournament."
McIlroy certainly has his driver working very well. Even when his caddie suggested a 3-wood off the tee at No. 18, McIlroy stuck with his driver and drove the ball 329 yards. That left him 115 yards to the pin, and he hit his approach to 5 feet for the final birdie and the lead.
He started four strokes back of Holmes, who took advantage of a morning tee time to take the clubhouse lead at 6 under. McIlroy was happy with his play Thursday with the exception of a bogey on the par-5 third. He made up for that with an eagle Friday, sticking an 8-iron to 9 feet.
Then he parred his way around the rest of the front nine, making the turn at 5 under and a stroke off the lead. McIlroy moved into a three-way tie atop the leaderboard with his second birdie of the round on the par-3 11th. He stuck his tee shot 5 feet from the hole and rolled the putt in for birdie to reach 6 under.
He bogeyed Nos. 12 and 13 to fall back. McIlroy said he wasn't happy that he had a wedge in his hand in the fairway on No. 13 from 127 yards only to hit into the rough turning a birdie chance into a bogey.
McIlroy turned it around on the par-5 16th, hitting his second shot to 4 feet. The ball hit the left edge and curled right, leaving McIlroy to tap in for birdie and a share of the lead. He had a nice par save on No. 17 after hitting his drive behind a tree and his second into a greenside bunker before getting up and down with a 4-footer for par and the final birdie.
"To finish strong the way I did was great, and it gives me momentum going into tomorrow," McIlroy said.
Holmes had his low round of the year as he works his way back from brain surgery last September. He had seven birdies and a bogey, putting himself into strong position.
"I wasn't knocking pins down, but I hit them in there pretty close," Holmes said. "Made a couple 6-footers, but I putted well. I was hitting it 15, 20 feet and making some putts."
Maggert was the first to get to 7 under when he birdied No. 16, but he gave back the stroke with his lone bogey on No. 17 that left him pretty happy with only one with the TPC Southwind course playing tough.
"There's probably 30, 40 guys still in the tournament," said Maggert, who won the 2006 title. "I need the play well on the weekend, especially tomorrow, and stick to my game plan and play solid golf."
- Friday was McIlroy's 150th round on the PGA Tour. He has never had two eagles in the same round, and 25 have managed that in Memphis since 1989. Defending champion Harrison Frazar was among 80 missing the cut at 2 over. He was 11 over. David Toms, a two-time champ here, also missed the cut (9 over) along with 2010 U.S. Open champ Graeme McDowell (8 over).
- Holmes had six birdies in finishing the front nine with a 29, one stroke off the course record.