Rory McIlroy shook off the rust and regained his putting mojo on Friday to climb into contention at the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai.
McIlroy had just 26 putts en route to a 66 after taking 32 on the greens on Thursday and moved to seven-under-par for the tournament.
“When you miss a few putts it starts to get into your head a little bit, it was just hard,” he said. “I felt a little more comfortable with it today.”
McIlroy’s round was eclipsed by runaway leader Hideki Matsuyama who followed his opening 66 with a best-of-the-day 65 that contained nine birdies to open a three shot advantage on 13-under-par.
Matsuyama broke into the world’s top 10 for the first time following his second place finish behind Justin Thomas in the PGA Tour’s CIMB Classic in Malaysia on Sunday and victory at the Japan Open the week before.
He has already proved this year that he is the man for the big occasion by finishing tied seventh at the Masters and tied fourth at the US PGA Championship.
“I haven’t really played well here before,” Matsuyama said.
“I was a little bit nervous thinking it’s not going to be a good week for me. But then I decided, let’s just have fun this week. It’s made a difference.”
‘It’s as good a round of golf as you’ll see.’
Matsuyama cards a 65 to set the target at 13 under par. https://t.co/C9k0ELwPkd
— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) October 28, 2016
He was one of only a handful of players to master the blustery conditions on Friday by playing aggressively and peppering the pins with arrow-straight iron play.
“I thought maybe just a couple under par would be a good score. So I’m really happy with how it ended up today,” added the first Japanese player to be ranked in the top 10 since Jumbo Ozaki in April 1998.
Rory McIlroy uses new weapon to blast the ball farther than ever but putter lets him down in Shanghai
Defending champion Russell Knox kept his hopes alive of becoming the first player to record back-to-back WGC-HSBC Champions wins with a 68 on Friday to share second place on 10-under-par with American Bill Haas, who carded a 67.
McIlroy had a three-week layoff after the Ryder Cup before arriving in Shanghai this week.
“There was definitely some rust in the 71 yesterday. I feel like I’ve shaken most of that off,” he said.
“The green speeds here are so different to what we’re used to. They’re quite slow this week so it’s probably taken me a day or two to get used to that as well.”
Despite being six shots off the leader, the world number three believes he is right back in the mix going into the weekend.
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“I’ve been able to come back from six behind with 18 to play, seven behind with 18 to play,” said McIlroy.
“So over 36 holes, a lot of things can happen. Hideki is obviously playing very well and he’ll be tough to catch.
“But if I can keep that sort of golf going over the next two days, I should have a chance.”