MEXICO CITY – You can see the athletic tape through Rory McIlroy’s shirt, a constant reminder that the Northern Irishman is only days removed from a six-week stint on the disabled list.
That tape was the only indication, at least to those watching from afar, that McIlroy was at anything other than mid-season form.
After starting slowly on Day 1 at the WGC-Mexico Championship, the world No. 2 picked up where he left off last season on the PGA Tour, when he won two of the last three playoff events to claim the FedEx Cup, with a 4-under 31 on his outward nine.
A bounce-back birdie at the 13th hole was followed by an eagle at No. 14 and another birdie at the 15th hole to claim the lead at 10 under par.
His advantage could have been even better, but he missed a 4-footer for par at No. 17 and a 3-footer for birdie at the last, but after a 6-under 65 he will still take a two-stroke lead into the weekend in his first Tour event of 2017.
“A little bit disappointed with the way I finished, but overall if you had told me at the start of the week that I would be leading by two going into the weekend, I definitely would have taken it,” McIlroy said.
McIlroy lost a playoff at the BMW SA Open in mid-January before being diagnosed with a hairline rib fracture that kept him from starts in Los Angeles and last week’s Honda Classic.
Although he said he normally starts each year well after extended layoffs, this time was different.
“I’ve exceeded my expectations coming into the week,” he said. “I would have liked to have said coming in here yeah, I’m going to just get straight back at it and contend for the win or whatever, but I’m sort of a bit more realistic than that.”
Even more impressive has been how well McIlroy has played considering he was slowed the last two days with a stomach virus, but after getting 12 hours of sleep on Thursday his outlook had brightened on Day 2 in Mexico.