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McIlroy in PGA hunt again at Quail Hollow

Golf hasn’t had this much noise, this much energy, since before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Maybe it’s just a coincidence that Rory McIlroy is right back in the thick of it at the PGA Tour event at Quail Hollow.

Winless the past 18 months, he is playing in the final group for the first time since Riviera, a month before golf shut down and fans were mostly kept away the rest of 2020.

“It was buzzy, that atmosphere,” McIlroy said after a 3-under 68 left him two shots behind leader Keith Mitchell.

“Just so cool to play in an atmosphere like that again. I’ve missed it. I didn’t think I would miss it as much as I did, but I really have.

“So to be in contention, to have the fans back, I really enjoyed it out there today and I’m excited about tomorrow.”

Sunday should be quite a show, at least a loud one.

The tournament was allowed 30 per cent capacity, whatever that is on a sprawling golf course.

Only a small majority of them are wearing masks, making it sound even louder.

Mitchell avoided the mistakes that slowed McIlroy and Gary Woodland (70), a bogey-free 66 leaving him at 9-under 204 for a two-shot advantage over the major champions.

A two-time winner at Quail Hollow, McIlroy raced out to the lead, steadied himself after a double bogey on the 12th hole when his drive hit a cart path.

Woodland, who hasn’t won since the US Open triumph at Pebble Beach in 2019, had troubles on his own, particularly a drive right of the water hazard on the par-5 seventh that turned birdie into bogey, and a lapse of poor putting down the stretch on the back nine.

Luke List (68) was three shots behind Mitchell, while Scott Stallings (70) and Satoshi Kodaira (68) were at 5-under 208.

Cameron Davis had an eagle on the par-5 10th and carded a 69 to sit 3 under in a share of 13th while his fellow Australian Matt Jones slid down the field with a two-over 73 leaving him at even par.

Missing from the action is Phil Mickelson, whose 64 in the opening round now feels like more than two days ago.

The 50-year-old took double bogey from the trees on No.9 and came up short in the water on the 136-yard 17th hole for another double bogey and a 76.

He is 9 over the last two rounds and tied for 54th at 2 over.

Still playing is Bryson DeChambeau, but not after an 1,800-mile (2900km) round trip home to Dallas and back when he thought he missed the cut.

He made it back to Quail Hollow with an hour to spare and shot 68, with a double bogey on the last hole, and was eight shots adrift.

The trick was avoiding mistakes.

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