NORTON, Mass. (AP) — The Deutsche Bank Championship has had a fair amount of heavyweight battles in its 10-year history. Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods were poised to deliver another one.
McIlroy went from one extreme to another on par 5s only 30 minutes apart, but steadied himself down the stretch for another 6-under 65 that gave him a two-shot lead among the early starters Saturday in the second round on the TPC Boston.
Woods played in the afternoon, and already was making a move up the leaderboard.
The TPC Boston is where Woods and Vijay Singh had a memorable battle on Labor Day in 2004, when Singh won to replace him at No. 1 in the world. Two years later, Woods closed with a 63 to rally from a three-shot deficit against Singh. And in the first year of the FedEx Cup in 2007, it was Phil Mickelson who played three rounds with Woods and wound up beating him by two shots.
Woods and McIlroy might be the next one.
McIlroy, who won the PGA Championship by a record eight shots at Kiawah Island three weeks ago, looked comfortable on the smoother greens of TPC Boston and had only one bad spell of back-to-back bogeys on his back nine to reach the midway point at 12-under 130.
“Everything seemed to work pretty well out there,” McIlroy said. “I felt like I drove the ball a bit better today and hit more fairways, which gave me some more opportunities to make birdies. And I was putting well enough to take a few of those. Yeah, pleased with where I am and looking forward to the weekend.”
The weekend is half over, as this FedEx Cup playoff event is known for its Labor Day finish.
McIlroy had a two-shot lead over Ryan Moore among those who played Saturday morning. Moore hit a brilliant approach into the par-5 18th for eagle to briefly take the lead, but he played the front nine in 1-over par and had to settle for a 68.
Seung-yul Noh (71), Jason Dufner (66) and Chris Kirk (70) were another shot behind.
Rickie Fowler made a clutch putt on his final hole, a 4-footer for par that gave him a 72. It was significant because he was likely to make the cut, giving him two more days to make an impression on Davis Love III before he announces his four captain’s picks for the Ryder Cup on Tuesday.
Hunter Mahan had a 72 to end his untimely streak of two missed cuts, boosting his hopes of getting one of the four picks.
McIlroy wasn’t much of a factor in the opening playoff event last week at Bethpage Black, where the greens were baked out by sunshine and nearly dead by the third round, making it difficult to score. The greens have been pure at the TPC Boston, and it showed in the scoring.
Then again, he didn’t have to make putts from very far. McIlroy made three birdies from inside 10 feet — one of them a tap-in on the 14th — and he seized the lead on the par-5 18th. Even though the pin was to the front of the smaller, treacherous green, there was enough wind in his face that he could get 4-iron in the air and have it land softly. It rode a gentle slope to about 10 feet away and he made the eagle putt.
After an 18-foot birdie putt on No. 1, McIlroy was poised to get some separation on the field until he tried to hit a high cut with a 5-wood on the par-5 second. He pushed it too far, into the water, and made bogey.
“That was a really tricky little pin position there on the second,” he said. “If you lay up, you’re going to have to hit a really good shot to get it close to try and make birdie. I’m sure it played a little easier yesterday, but you’ll probably see just as many bogeys as you do birdies there today.”
On the next hole, his long putt from the fringe was weak and came up 8 feet short, and he missed that for another bogey. But that was that. He followed with back-to-back birdies to get back to 12 under, and made a 12-foot par putt on the eighth to keep from dropping another shot.
McIlroy attributed the improvement from last week to one thing.
“My putting,” he said. “I wasn’t very comfortable on the greens at all last week. They weren’t the best surfaces. I think everyone saw that. This week, the surfaces are much better, and it gives you a little more confidence that you can roll your putts at the hole a bit more.”
Dufner skipped The Barclays last week to avoid playing too much golf before the Tour Championship and Ryder Cup. He slipped in the FedEx Cup standings, but his game didn’t fall off that much. He played without a bogey, picking up five birdies to stay in the mix. The only concern was tightness in his hamstring that creeps into his lower back, though he has managed just fine.
“Pretty low-stress round,” he said.
Mickelson hit a 5-iron to a foot on the par-3 eighth for his second straight 68, leaving him six shots behind. Even so, it was his best two-day start to a tournament since the Houston Open at the end of March.
The top 70 in the FedEx Cup move on to Indianapolis next week for the BMW Championship. Among those likely to miss the cut, ending their FedEx Cup hopes, were Charles Howell III, K.J. Choi and Rory Sabbatini.
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