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Brian Harman And Rory McIlroy Share BMW Lead At Soft Olympia Fields

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Except for the fact that trees and a bunker stood between him and the 17th green at Olympia Fields during a downpour, Rory McIlroy didn’t mind being in the rough. In the BMW Championship on Thursday, even it was irrelevant.

No one would have known this by looking at McIlroy’s scorecard that he only hit the short grass six times out of 18 tee shots, three of which were on par 3s. He shot bogey-free for a 5-under 65, sharing the lead with Brian Harman, the winner of the British Open, in the second FedEx Cup playoff matchup.

“Only hitting three fairways today and coming up with 65 is a bit of a bonus,” McIlroy said.

After a two-hour rain delay in the morning, the greens were so soft that McIlroy understood it would be simpler to approach pins from the rough since the ball wouldn’t spin as much.

“I’m not saying I was trying to aim for the rough,” he said with a smile.

Furthermore, he wasn’t in the best position when he found himself on the par-4 17th hole. On the 456-yard hole, he still had 116 yards to go, but a group of trees stood in his way, and there was a sizable bunker in front of the putting green.

McIlroy used a 7-iron to drive the ball through a gap in the trees, over the bunker, and toward the edge of the green before chipping in for a birdie. That kind of day it was.

“There was a couple of branches above the window I was looking at, and I was like, ‘If it hits those, it’s just going to drop down near that front left bunker and I’ll have a decent angle down the green and have a 10-footer or less to save par,'” McIlroy said. “It was a bit of a hit-and-a-hope. Just trying to thread that needle. It was either chip it out or take it on. And it’s only Thursday.

“I thought, ‘What the heck? I’ll take it on and see what happens.'”

Harman, who had some rust on his hands after winning the British Open the previous week, conveyed his joy at the finish of the round. On the par-3 sixteenth, he made a 40-foot birdie putt, and on the seventeenth, he chipped in for another birdie.

They had a strong start for various reasons when they were one shot ahead of a sizable group at 66 that featured Scottie Scheffler, Matt Fitzpatrick, Sahith Theegala, and Rickie Fowler.

Scheffler lasted nine months without placing lower than 12th, but after that, his putting woes caused him to drop out of the top 20 for two straight weeks. By winning, Fowler has a chance to secure one of the six slots for the American Ryder Cup team that are guaranteed.

To progress to the FedEx Cup final at East Lake, Fitzpatrick and Theegala must finish among the top 30 in the FedEx Cup after this week.

Fitzpatrick, who is ranked No. 40, needs a strong showing to advance to the Tour Championship and turn around a bad year. The winner of the U.S. Open last year defeated Jordan Spieth in a playoff at Hilton Head, but his FedEx Cup status dropped as a result of just one top-10 finish in his last nine starts.

Fitzpatrick described his performance as “really pleased,” adding “really” a total of six more times to match the number of birdies he had made in the first round.

Theegala, who is ranked No. 31 entering the BMW Championship, entered the fray after holing a 9-iron from the 14th fairway for an eagle.

“I think it’s impossible to ignore,” Theegala said of the FedEx Cup standings. “I think everyone would be lying if they didn’t know exactly where they stood — not exactly but somewhat of an idea what it’s going to take to get to next week.”

Among those at 67 were Collin Morikawa and Cameron Young, who both aimed to raise their Ryder Cup standing. Spieth, Patrick Cantlay, who had already held the title twice, and Jon Rahm were all 68.

With three victories in a row on the line, Lucas Glover shot 70.

On a course that was so dry and firm in 2020 that Rahm had to finish at 4-under par to enter a playoff, he prevailed against Dustin Johnson.

The terrain was soggy and lengthy. The greens were so soft that hitting the ball the proper distance was difficult, especially with a back pin because you knew the ball would fly back. McIlroy didn’t care if the ball was in the rough because of this. The most artistic driver in the game put on a display because it was time to blast out.

“A lot of the tee shots I was just being super aggressive because I knew in the back of my mind I wasn’t really being penalized for it,” McIlroy said. “The golf course is certainly not playing the way it played in 2020. That was not my approach a few years ago here.

“But hopefully with the wind and the sun, the golf course starts to firm up a little bit and starts to play a little bit more like how I think it should play.”

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