Rory McIlroy continues to hold a multi-shot cushion at the 2012 PGA Championship at Kiawah Island. McIlroy picked up birdies when he had to, posting red numbers at the gettable second and third holes. The lead was then extended on one of the later birdie holes on the front side, the par-5 7th. McIlroy put his second shot on the green and lagged a beautiful eagle putt to within a foot, setting up the tap-in birdie. With a four-shot lead, the young superstar is generally playing things safe -- simply putting approaches on the greens and not taking aggressive aim at the sticks.
The one early challenger to McIlroy was Englishman Ian Poulter. He started his round red hot, with birdies on six of his first seven holes. But the putter went awry on the seventh when he aggressively hammered a five-footer and missed the cup completely on the low side. The bogey dropped him to 6-under for the championship.
Tiger Woods played a bogey-free front nine but, unfortunately, he made only two birdies -- both coming on the par-5s. Those birdies moved him to 4-under, a full six shots back of McIlroy. The inward nine is typically much more difficult to pick up shots, so he'll need to go nuts with the putter and hope the players ahead of him start dropping shots. It's looking like a near-certainty that his majors winless streak will persist, with Saturday afternoon's sluggish play providing the crucial turning point and opening for McIlroy to take complete control.
After a strong start to the Tour season, which included at win at the Honda and an ascension to No. 1 in the world, McIlroy hit perhaps the roughest stretch of his career. He repeatedly missed cuts through the months of May and June, but he's steadily been working his way back from that summer swoon. He looked like he was back to his usual form last week at Firestone, and was one of the favorites this week. With a McIlroy win, Seve Ballesteros and Jack Nicklaus would be the only players younger than McIlroy to hold two majors titles in the modern golf era. Having a four-shot lead with just 10 holes to play, he'll just have to avoid an Adam Scott-esque implosion at this point.
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