Rory McIlroy doesn't lead the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, but a 3-under 67 on Friday in Round 2 got him to 8-under overall and within three of co-leaders Tommy Fleetwood, Ian Poulter and Justin Thomas.
It wasn't as easy as it looks on paper. McIlroy played his first 16 holes a little up and down and was 1 under going to the 17th tee. He blew his drive on the second-to-last hole off the planet to the right, and a stalled round looked like it would upend his chances at this tournament. A bogey-par close could mean dropping back to 5 under, well behind the 11-under lead.
But from a spot that barely shows up on ShotLink, he hit an iron into the front bunker on the par 4 and holed out for birdie. Golf, baby! McIlroy followed that with a birdie on the 18th hole for a 3-under 67, and all of a sudden he trails the leaders by just three strokes.
He said on Golf Channel that the distances on his wedges were off all day, and it showed as he lost over a stroke to the field on approach shots. Still, he was my pick coming into this week, and his finishing one-two punch with the holed bunker shot and approach to 5 feet on No. 18 mean he could be poised to repeat his 2014 performance here when he shot 66-66 on the weekend to win by two.
Sometimes it's the little things few people notice on a Thursday or Friday that win you a golf tournament, and McIlroy might have given himself the boost he needed late in the day in Round 2 to get his second win of 2018. There's a long way to go, and he has several stars to overcome, but at the very least, he's given himself a great shot as the final major of the year approaches next week.
Here are four other takeaways from Round 2 at the Bridgestone Invitational.
1. European takeover: After over a year of young American dominance at the major championships, the U.S. streak was ended at the Open Championship two weeks ago by Francesco Molinari. The unofficial European Ryder Cup team has showed no signs of slowing down this week as two of its presumed members (Poulter and Fleetwood) lead while two others (McIlroy and Jon Rahm) are in the top 10. Maybe I'm the only one who cares about the sometimes-meaningless Ryder Cup subplot running through all of these tournaments, but I think it's a fun little prelude to Paris in September.
2. Somebody will blitz the field: This tournament smells like somebody is going to shoot a 62 on Saturday or Sunday to win. We saw it last year when Hideki Matsuyama dropped a sick 61 on Sunday to run away with the tournament, and it feels like somebody (Justin Thomas perhaps? Maybe Louis Oosthuizen?) is going to do so again this time around.
3. Fleetwood's round of the day: I'm not sure anybody in golf gets hotter than Tommy Fleetwood when he's really feeling it. He finished Friday first in strokes gained from tee to green and ninth in strokes gained putting. That seems like a pretty good combination to put yourself in position to win your first PGA Tour event.
"Next step is a PGA Tour win," Fleetwood told the media. "A WGC would be a lovely way to do that. They're the biggest events in the world -- majors, WGCs, Players, and the BMW at Wentworth -- those are the biggest tournaments you're going to play and the best fields in the world ... winning one shows you're a proper player."
4. Interesting struggles: After two rounds of play at Firestone, 52 players are at even par or better, but there are some intriguing names who are not among those. Xander Schauffele (+2), Jordan Spieth (+3) and Bryson DeChambeau (+4) are all over par after two rounds in this no-cut event. Schauffele and Speith might still be carrying some of the emotions that come with contending late at a major championship as they were in the final pairing at The Open a few weeks ago. DeChambeau, who did a sit-down interview with Mike Tirico this week to clear up his behavior at the European Open from last week, might still be experiencing some of the fallout from that. There are no alarm bells for three guys who could be on the U.S. Ryder Cup team, but it hasn't been the start they've wanted going into the year's final major.
CBS Sports was with you the entire way Friday updating this story with the latest scores, analysis and highlights from Round 2 of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. If you are unable to view the live updates below, please click here.
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