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Imperious McIlroy moves one clear at Valhalla

Phil Mickelson (L) shakes hands with compatriot Tiger Woods after they finished their second round play at the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky on Friday. (REUTERS: Brian Snyder)

Phil Mickelson (L) shakes hands with compatriot Tiger Woods after they finished their second round play at the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky on Friday. (REUTERS: Brian Snyder)

LOUISVILLE, Kentucky — Rory McIlroy, helped by a spectacular eagle on his ninth hole of the day, roared into a one-shot lead in the weather-hit second round of the PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club on Friday.

The British Open champion, in pursuit of a third consecutive victory on the PGA Tour, fired a four-under-par 67 on a wet, ultra-long Valhalla layout where play was suspended for 45 minutes earlier in the day due to water-logged conditions.

McIlroy, the pre-tournament favourite heading into the year’s final major, holed an uphill 30-foot putt from just off the green to eagle the par-five 18th and also recorded four birdies and two bogeys to post a nine-under total of 133.

He squandered a golden opportunity to add another eagle at the par-five seventh, where he hit a stunning second shot from 243 yards to just eight feet before missing the putt, but signed off with a birdie at the ninth where he drained a 16-footer.

“I played well for the most part,” McIlroy told reporters after moving a step closer to winning the fourth major title of his career. “Scored really well. Some key up-and-downs to keep the momentum going in the round.

“I’m very pleased. I’m in a great position going into the weekend in another major championship. Can’t ask for much more. I’m confident, and I’m just on a good run.

“You’ve seen before when I got on good runs like this, I can sort of keep it going for a little while,” said the Northern Irishman, who won last month’s British Open before clinching the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational on Sunday in his next start.

McIlroy ended his round one stroke in front Jason Day and Jim Furyk.

England’s former world number one Lee Westwood was also at seven under, after completing five holes, with American Kevin Chappell a further stroke back, after four holes.

Fourth-ranked Swede Henrik Stenson (71), veteran American Steve Stricker (68) and Canada’s Graham DeLaet (68) were knotted at five under, three strokes off the pace.

CONSUMMATE DISPLAY

McIlroy, however, commanded the spotlight as he lived up to his pre-tournament billing with another consummate display in often difficult playing conditions.

Initially struggling for accuracy off the tee, he dropped a shot at the par-four 12th where he found a bunker with his approach, but swiftly responded by sinking a 12-footer at the 13th and a 16-footer at the 15th to get to six under.

Though the 25-year-old Northern Irishman squandered another birdie chance at the 16th, where he missed an eight-foot putt, he reached the turn in sizzling style with his eagle on 18.

McIlroy dropped another shot at the par-four second, where his tee shot ended up in the rough and his second in a bunker, but maintained his grip on the tournament with two birdies in his last three holes.

Veteran Stricker, who has played a limited schedule on the PGA Tour for the past two years, surged into contention with four birdies on his front nine, capped by a 30-foot putt at the 17th.

Out in four-under 32, Stricker made his only bogey of the day where he found two bunkers en route to the green before finishing his round four strokes off the lead.

The cut was projected to fall at even par, leaving players such as four-times winner Tiger Woods with ground to make up if he is to advance.

Woods, tournament rusty after having surgery in late March to treat a pinched nerve in his back, struggled to an opening 74 on Thursday and slipped to four over after bogeying the par-four fourth on Friday.

Struggling Woods cards successive 74s at Valhalla

A badly out-of-sorts Tiger Woods missed the fourth major cut of his professional career after again struggling with his game in the second round of the PGA Championship on Friday.

At a rain-sodden Valhalla Golf Club playing ultra-long, the American former world number one dropped four shots in his first seven holes before carding a three-over-par 74 to make an early exit from the year’s fourth and final major.

Woods only pronounced himself fit to compete at Valhalla on the eve of the tournament following a back scare he suffered at last week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Ohio.

The 14-times major champion, who had surgery in March to treat a pinched nerve in his back, looked rusty in both rounds at the PGA Championship as he posted a six-over total of 148.

With the cut projected to fall at one-over, Woods comfortably missed out on advancing into the third round.

By some distance the leading player of his generation and arguably of all time, he had previously missed the cut as a professional at the 2006 U.S. Open, 2009 British Open and 2011 PGA Championship.