By Mark Lamport-Stokes
LOUISVILLE Kentucky (Reuters) - Rory McIlroy, helped by a spectacular eagle on his ninth hole of the day, soared into a two-shot clubhouse lead in the weather-delayed 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 favorite 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 two strokes in front of American Ryan Palmer, who birdied his last two holes for a 70 after teeing off in the first group of the day in heavy, driving rain.
"I wasn't sure we should have teed off when we did," said Palmer. "I could barely see the fairway on one.
"Fairways are not rolling at all. You are going to need a lot of mid to long-irons. Even par is a good round today, so it's nice to get under par."
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.
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.
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Gene Cherry)