LOUISVILLE: Top-ranked Rory McIlroy birdied two of his last three holes Friday to fire a four-under par 67 and grab a two-stroke lead in the rain-hit second round of the PGA Championship.
McIlroy, seeking his second major victory in a row after capturing the British Open three weeks ago at Royal Liverpool, stood on nine-under 133 for 36 holes at Valhalla with American Ryan Palmer second on 135 after a 70 Friday.
“Really happy with the day’s work — another great chance to win a major this weekend,” McIlroy said.
McIlroy, who began on the back nine, stumbled early with a bogey at the 12th but answered with birdie putts of 12 feet at the 13th and 16 feet at the 15th.
The three-time major winner left his second shot 32 feet short of the pin at the par-5 18th but holed a putt from there to move atop the leaderboard for the first time.
Another bogey at the second allowed Palmer to match him with a birdie-birdie finish, but the 25-year-old Northern Ireland star smashed a 5-wood shot 243 yards to eight feet and birdied the par-5 seventh, then closed with a 16-foot birdie putt at nine.
“I can’t wait until tomorrow to get back on the course and do the same thing all over again,” McIlroy said.
“I’m just going to try and keep the pedal down and get as many ahead as possible.”
McIlroy, whose other major wins include the 2011 US Open and 2012 PGA Championship, became a the clear favorite this week with his first World Golf Championships title last Sunday in Akron, Ohio.
He could become the first man since Padraig Harrington at the 2008 British Open and PGA to win back-to-back major titles and could join Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson as the only male golfers in the last quarter-century with wins the week before they won a major.
“It would be huge,” McIlroy said. “But there’s a lot of golf left to play.”
Woods, a 14-time major champion who has not won a major since the 2008 US Open, teed off in the afternoon fighting to make the cut after an opening 74.
Also off late were Britain’s Lee Westwood, whose eight top-three major finishes have not included a victory, and American Kevin Chappell, seeking his first tour-level title. They shared third on six-under par.
Canada’s Graham DeLaet and US Ryder Cup assistant captain Steve Stricker shared fifth on 137 after firing 68s Friday with Sweden’s Henrik Stenson there as well after a 71.
Palmer teed off in a heavy downpour that caused a 45-minute delay, but not before Palmer was forced to hit two shots into the water-logged 7,458-yard layout.
“It was tough when we teed off,” Palmer said. “Wasn’t quite sure if we should have teed off to be honest. You could barely see the fairway.
“We were questioning in the fairway why we had to hit into a puddle because (hole) one was already underwater. We were questioning why we have to hit a second shot into a green that’s already half in standing water.
“They said, that’s just golf. We’re like, tell the guy indoors that’s making the decision to come check it out, because it’s wet.”
“When we got to one green, we couldn’t get a clean lie with the standing water. They couldn’t even squeegee it clear enough.”
Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat and American Ben Crane, who each opened on 74, withdrew due to injuries. Kiradech was troubled with a sore knee while a bad back made Crane the fourth US player to pull out.