Ace helps Stricker leapfrog McIlroy

A spectacular ace has helped Steve Stricker leapfrog Rory McIlroy and secure the second round lead at The Memorial.

A spectacular hole-in-one has helped seasoned American Golfer Steve Stricker leapfrog one of Northern Ireland’s favourite sons, Rory McIlroy, and secure the second round lead at The Memorial.

In holing-out with a six-iron from 186 yards at Muirfield Village’s par-three eighth, the penultimate hole of his round, Stricker notched what was. only the second ace of his US PGA Tour career and will go into the weekend here in Dublin, Ohio, hoping that it will bring greater rewards than his first.

Hole-in-one Number 1 was made 14 years ago at the notorious short 16th at the Pheonix Open, but didn’t bring him victory.

His latest ace helped him pencil in a third round 5-under 67, move to a 9-under 135 total and go three shots clear of Rory McIlroy who was tied for second on 6-under 138 with Australian Rod Pampling, who moved into contention with a best-of-the-day 66, and two more Americans, Rick Barnes (70) and Jonathan Byrd (67).

The new leader’s position was not all of his own making.

Chris Riley, who had shared the first round lead, contributed by tumbling down the leaderboard with a hugely disappointing 3-over 75 after having opened with a heartening 66, and McIlroy, who at 22 is arguably one of the most explosive young guns in world golf right now, will not have been happy with his moderately better level-par 75

Stricker, who has slipped back from a top three spot on the World Rankings list to No 8 during the past year, was clearly delighted at having put the brakes on his slide and also that he had managed it by bringing an ace into the equation.

“It’s a shock when you see that (his tee shot at 8) go in, obviously, but in a good way,” Stricker said afterwards

“And what a great way to finish the round.”

The fired-up 44-year-old went on to birdie his final hole, the 9th, for a five-under-par 67, and then gave his ace ball away.

“I signed it and gave it to my scorer,” Stricker said, adding that his second hole-in-one had been especially welcome because the eight hole at Muirfield Village had never been kind to him

“That shot has always provided me with trouble over the years,” he admitted. “It’s just a tough par three. There’s not a lot of room there to hit it.

“What I had going for me there was a little bit of a left-to-right wind and I draw the ball so I could pretty much hold it up against the wind. It started off right at the hole and went in.”

McIlroy, in the meantime, blamed too many mistakes for messing up what could have been a good round and letting Stricker get three ahead..

The 22-year-old picked up three bogies on his front nine but nullified them with birdies at the second, fifth and seventh holes.

He carded a further three birdies on the back nine, but damaged his fight back with a double-bogey on the par-four 14th and another bogey on the 18th.

“I felt as if I played good enough to shoot something in the 60s, but I just made too many mistakes out there,” the Northern Irishman youngster declared.

Britain’s new World No 1, Luke Donald, fresh from his triumph in the European Tour’s flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth on Sunday, was, meanwhile, moving on and up under the radar, having added a solid 69 to his opening 70 and, if mental exhaustion doesn’t bring him down, he could well become a major threat at the weekend.

The Top 10 leaderboard

135 Steve Stricker 68 67

138 Ricky Barnes 68 70, Rodney Pampling (Aus) 72 66, Rory McIlroy (NIrl) 66 72, Jonathan Byrd 71 67

139 Aaron Baddeley (Aus) 71 68, Kevin Stadler 71 68, Brandt Jobe 71 68, Luke Donald (Eng) 70 69, Ryan Moore 69 70, Josh Teater 67 72