Rory in the spotlight
Rory McIlroy (Gallo Images)
Houston - Rory McIlroy didn't improve his chances of regaining the world No. 1 ranking, but he held up under pressure on Friday to guarantee himself two more rounds at the US PGA Tour Houston Open.
Steve Wheatcroft, who booked his place in the field in a Monday qualifier, topped the leaderboard with a second-straight 67 for 10-under par 134.
Wheatcroft had five birdies without a bogey and had a one-shot lead over Jason Kokrak and overnight leader DA Points.
Points had one birdie in his one-under 71 while Kokrak countered his double-bogey six at the 17th with five birdies in a 69.
It was a further two strokes back to England's Brian Davis (70) and American Stewart Cink (66) on 137.
Although he was well down the leaderboard, McIlroy was squarely in the spotlight.
His two-under 70 included three birdies and a bogey and left him on one-under 143 for the tournament, making the cut with no room to spare.
"As I said, no one likes missing cuts," McIlroy said after his morning round, when he still thought Houston would mark his last start before the Masters.
Later in the day, the PGA Tour said McIlroy had committed to play next week's Texas Open in San Antonio, giving him one more tuneup for the year's first major.
Through Friday he had played just 10 competitive rounds in 2013 and seen Tiger Woods supplant him atop the world rankings.
McIlroy, whose opening 73 on Thursday had put him in danger of an early exit, teed off on 10 and picked up back-to-back birdies at the 15th and 16th.
After a bogey at the second, he got up-and-down for a birdie on the par-five eighth.
He two-putted from 40 feet for par on his finishing hole, the 236-yard ninth.
While McIlroy was fairly certain when he walked off the course that he'd done enough to make the cut, he admitted he felt the pressure late in his round.
"I saw that I was 77th when I walked onto the seventh green," he said. "I knew I probably needed to make a birdie coming in, which I was able to do."
McIlroy has struggled in the early going this year as he adjusts to new clubs.
Although a victory in this $6.2 million tournament would see him regain the top ranking from Woods, he came in saying he was more focused on getting his game in shape for Augusta National.
Overall, he said, he was more consistent on Friday, but he still needs to regain some confidence.
"There's a couple swings out there again today where I was a bit tentative on," he said. "If I just let them go, it would be fine. I think it's more a mental thing than a mechanical thing at this point."
Leading second-round scores on Friday from the $6.2 million PGA Tour's Houston Open (USA unless noted, par-72):
134 - Steve Wheatcroft 67-67
135 - Jason Kokrak 66-69, DA Points 64-71
137 - Brian Davis (ENG) 67-70, Stewart Cink 71-66
138 - Bill Haas 68-70, Angel Cabrera (ARG) 66-72, Cameron Tringale 65-73
139 - John Rollins 65-74, Scott Stallings 70-69, Dustin Johnson 69-70, Henrik Stenson (SWE) 69-70, Ben Crane 69-70, Brendon de Jonge (ZIM) 71-68, Charley Hoffman 68-71, Jimmy Walker 68-71, Boo Weekley 70-69
140 - Kevin Chappell 70-70, Keegan Bradley 70-70, Hunter Haas 69-71, Bob Estes 71-69, Billy Horschel 68-72, John Merrick 68-72, Lee Westwood (ENG) 68-72, Scott Verplank 72-68, Jeff Overton 67-73
141 - Josh Teater 74-67, Steve Stricker 73-68, Wes Short 71-70, Greg Owen (ENG) 68-73, Ricky Barnes 73-68, Robert Streb 70-71, Matt Jones (AUS) 68-73, Charles Howell 69-72, Chris Kirk 71-70, Aaron Baddeley (AUS) 70-71, Brendan Steele 70-71