LOUISVILLE, Ky. - In more ways than one, Rory McIlroy can identify with the line from an old poem, "Into each life some rain must fall." In the figurative sense, he has experienced upheaval in his personal life. In the literal sense, he knows how to play in really bad weather. Either way, his golf turns out like poetry.
McIlroy, bolstered by an eagle 3 midway through the soggy second round of the PGA Championship, shot 4-under-par 67 and moved to 9 under for a one-stroke lead over Jason Day and Jim Furyk. Results like that occur, McIlroy said, because he has had more time for the game after the breakup of his engagement, and because he is a good mudder.
"What's a mudder?" he said when the topic was raised here, near the home of the Kentucky Derby. When he was told it is a racing expression for a horse that thrives in the rain, he acknowledged there is something to that. "I don't like that I'm getting that sort of stereotype or tag. But at the same time, those sort of conditions seem to suit me well," he said.
He played another superb round Friday morning, when the rain varied between downpour and drizzle, with playing partner Bubba Watson continually grousing about the conditions ("Water on the club face. I've got no chance," Watson said near a microphone).
McIlroy took the lead on the par-5 18th, his ninth hole of the day, when he rolled in a 30-footer for eagle. Ryan Palmer briefly tied him but finished at 7 under. Day, enjoying the soft conditions and dry atmosphere in the afternoon, made eagle on the par-5 seventh and birdied 17 and 18 for a 65 and a place in the final pairing Saturday.
So the weekend will not be a mere coronation for McIlroy, the British Open and WGC-Bridgestone Invitational champion. He insisted he has learned to be aggressive to the end. But given his recent form, it is worth wondering if he ever will surrender the lead.
"When I'm playing like this, it's obviously very enjoyable. I can't wait to get back on the course again [Saturday] and do the same thing all over again," he said, having required only 27 putts each of the past two days at Valhalla Golf Club. In his past 10 competitive rounds, he is 41 under.
The day was not nearly as enjoyable for the champion whom McIlroy emulates. Tiger Woods winced and limped his way around the course Friday, shooting his second consecutive 74 to finish at 6 over and miss the cut, which fell at 1 over par.
Phil Mickelson, playing in Woods' marquee group, did much better, making eagle on No. 18 for a 67 and placing himself in contention at 6 under.
Again, though, the day was foremost a McIlroy stanza. He repeated what he has said a few times since he ended his engagement to tennis star Caroline Wozniacki: As painful as that was, it has made him more focused on his job.
"I guess, what else do I have to do? I get up in the morning, I go to the golf course, I go to the gym. It's just my life at the minute, you know," he said. "It obviously works pretty well, so I'm going to keep doing it."
As for the actual rain Friday, he said he concentrated on clipping iron shots off the top of the grass (rather than taking divots), altering his ball flight, taking spin off his wedge shots and ignoring Watson.
"You have to stand on the other side of the tee box because he's lefty," McIlroy said.
It works. U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer, also in that threesome, said of McIlroy, "There's nothing wrong with his game: putting, chipping, bunker [play], whatever it is. And he hits it 20 to 25 yards longer than anyone else. It's impressive. He's definitely the best player in the world."