MEXICO CITY — Sore ribs or sore stomach, it doesn’t seem to matter to Rory McIlroy. After being gone for seven weeks, he took a two-shot lead into the weekend at the Mexico Championship with a chance to return to No. 1 in the world.
McIlroy holed out from 156 yards for eagle on the 14th hole, part of a three-hole stretch Friday when he seized control at Chapultepec Golf Club. McIlroy missed putts inside 6 feet on his last three holes — one for par, two for birdie — and still shot a 6-under 65.
“Look, I’m in a great position,” McIlroy said. “But I felt like I could have been a few more ahead.”
He got 14 hours of sleep to help overcome a stomach virus and said he was feeling a little better.
His game looked better than ever.
McIlroy was at 9-under 133, two shots ahead of Phil Mickelson (68), Justin Thomas (66) and Ross Fisher (68).
Fairmont native William McGirt caught fire down the stretch, rolling in birdies on four consecutive holes to end his round with a 4-under 67 to finish at 3 under in a tie for 19th heading into the weekend.
Starting the day at even par, McGirt carded a bogey on the par-4 fourth holes before rolling in back-to-back birdies on Nos. 7 and 8 to make the turn at 1 under. He posted his second bogey on the day on the par-3 13th, but things changed on the par-5 15th. McGirt finished the round with birdies on Nos. 15, 16, 17 and 18 to carry momentum into the third round.
Paired with Charl Schwartzel and Byeong Hun An, McGirt tees off this afternoon at 12:04 p.m. Eastern time.
Mickelson will in the final group on the weekend for the first time since his runner-up finish to Henrik Stenson at Royal Troon in the British Open. And he got there without his longtime caddie, Jim “Bones” Mackay, who fell ill on fourth hole of the second round and turned the bag over to Mickelson’s younger brother, Tim.
Thomas, who won the opening two events of the year in Hawaii, had seven birdies and three bogeys over his last 13 holes.
McIlroy is playing for the first time since losing a playoff Jan. 15 in South Africa. He was diagnosed with a hairline fracture of his rib the next day and missed four tournaments on his schedule to make sure it healed properly. There seems to be little debate about that.
He showed that blend of power and balance in the thin air of Mexico City and struck his irons close for so much of the day. His longest birdie putt was 12 feet, and McIlroy had reason to lament the ones that got away. He missed four putts from 6 feet or closer.
“I just felt like I had a bit more energy. I had a bit more pep in my step,” McIlroy said. “I wasn’t just trying to get through the round today, I was trying to build on the score that I had and it was nice to feel like that again.”
He wasn’t alone in missing short putts.
Dustin Johnson, in his debut at No. 1, still watched a number of putts wiggle to the hole on the poa greens and a few more went in. He birdied three of his last four holes for a 66 and was among those just three shots behind and very much in the picture.