Rory McIlroy shines as Harold Varner III leads PGA Tour’s comeback event in Texas

Rory McIlroy needed a birdie on the last to equal the course record of 61 but finished with a bogey
Charles Schwab Challenge, round two leaderboard
-11 H Varner III (US); -10 J Spieth (US), B DeChambeau (US); -9 C Morikawa (US), X Schauffele (US), R McIlroy (NI)
Selected:-8 J Thomas (US), J Rose (Eng); -4 B Koepka (US), I Poulter (Eng); -3 M Fitzpatrick (Eng)

World number one Rory McIlroy hit a superb seven-under 63 to move within two shots of American leader Harold Varner III at the halfway stage of the PGA Tour’s return event in Texas.

McIlroy holed an eagle and six birdies, with his only bogey coming at the last as he improved to nine under.

Varner III began with a triple bogey but had five birdies in his final six holes in a 66 as he reached 11 under.

Americans Jordan Spieth and Bryson DeChambeau are at 10 under after 65s.

England’s Justin Rose, who shared the overnight lead on seven under with Varner III, birdied the first two holes but his momentum was halted by a bogey on the third.

Further bogeys followed on the 10th and 11th but birdies on the 13th and 18th saw him sign for a 69 and eight under total.

The Charles Schawb Challenge at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth marks the first PGA Tour event since The Players Championship was halted after one round on 12 March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

McIlroy flirts with course record

Northern Ireland’s McIlroy catapulted himself up the leaderboard with a terrific round of golf on Friday.

He admitted after a two-under 68 on Thursday that he was having a little trouble with distance control with his wedges on a course he had not played before. So, between rounds, he used the golf simulator at the house he is renting to “dial them in a bit”.

Clearly, it worked, apart from on the his last hole.

Starting on the 10th, he birdied three of his first eight holes and then drained a 23-foot eagle putt on the par-five first to get to seven under par.

Further birdies followed on the second, sixth and seventh holes and he needed to birdie the last to shoot 61 and equal the course record.

However, he pushed his drive into the trees and could not reach the green with his second shot. A poor pitch finished 15 yards short of the hole and after missing the lengthy par putt, he had to sink an eight-foot putt to avoid dropping two shots.

England’s Ian Poulter is four under after shooting a 70, while Matt Fitzpatrick is three under after a 69.

Varner III leads American challenge

Harold Varner III (centre) was among the players observing a minute’s silence on the course at 8.46am local time in memory of African American George Floyd who died after a white police officer was filmed kneeling on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds

Varner III, ranked 124th in the world and one of the few black American professional players on the PGA Tour circuit, has been at the centre of the tour’s racial and social injustice conversation this week in Fort Worth, in the wake of the death of George Floyd in police custody and the worldwide protests that followed.

He started on the par-four 10th, hit a bridge with his opening drive and also found a bunker and rough as he posted a seven. Three birdies in his next six holes repaired the damage and his excellent closing run saw him post a clubhouse target that none of the later starters were able to match.

DeChambeau, who has noticeably bulked up in the three months since the last tournament, missed a birdie putt on the last that would have seen him join Varner III at the top of the leaderboard.

He was crushing drives way over 300 yards as he produced a solid bogey-free round with five birdies.

It left him on the same score as three-time major winner Spieth, who had eight birdies, a bogey and a double bogey – after a four-putt on the third, which included three from three feet.

“I haven’t really been practising those kind of short-range putts,” said the 26-year-old, who in January dropped out of the top 50 in the world for the first time since 2013.

“Those are ones where you’re picking them up a lot of times when you’re playing regular rounds of golf at home.”

Xander Schauffele shot a four-under 66 to sit one further back on nine under, alongside compatriot Collin Morikawa (67).

World number four Justin Thomas and US Open champion Gary Woodland are on eight under.

Noticeable names missing the cut

This first event back was always going to feature the world’s best players and 15 of the top 20 are in Texas this week.

However, world number two Jon Rahm missed the cut, which came at two under par. The Spaniard’s one-over 71 was only good enough to finis level for his two rounds.

Dustin Johnson, the fifth best player in the world, looked out of sorts as he finished on two over.

Defending champion Kevin Na looked to be struggling with a back injury but managed to card a three-under 67, however, that was only good enough to get him to one under, the same score as Spain’s Sergio Garcia and Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell.

English players Danny Willett, Tom Lewis and Matt Wallace are also out, as is Scotland’s Russell Knox and Ireland’s Open champion Shane Lowry.

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