Keith Mitchell was buoyed by Rory McIlroy’s enthusiastic endorsement of his abilities as he opened up a five-shot lead at the midway stage of the CJ Cup in Las Vegas.
McIlroy singled out Mitchell in his pre-tournament press conference as he explained the challenge of his effort to reclaim the top spot in the global rankings, showing the great strength in depth of professional golf in the modern era.
And the former Honda Classic champion backed up McIlroy’s predictions, shooting a 64 at The Summit Club after a 62 in the first round to finish at 18 under par, five shots ahead of Jordan Spieth and Adam Scott, and nine shots ahead of McIlroy, who beat Mitchell to win the Wells Fargo Championship in May.
“Fields are so deep that people wouldn’t choose a Keith Mitchell to win a tournament at the start of a week,” McIlroy said on Wednesday. “But you play with him in a final round on a Sunday, and he stopped me in my tracks.”
“In the final round, I’m paired with him, and he drives it in the bunker on the first, plays a seven-iron to 10 feet, and makes the putt, and I said, ‘This is a hell of a golfer.'”
Mitchell defied the perceived difficulty of following up one low round with another on day two, making birdie at the first and eagle at the third in a superb outward 30 and recovering from his first dropped shot of the tournament at 11 with three more birdies to take a commanding lead into the weekend.
“Everything Rory says always seems to be the right thing, and he typically means it, which is rare these days,” Mitchell, who is in his sixth full year on the PGA Tour, said. “So when he compliments you like that, it’s extremely profound.”
“It means a lot to me since he’s a superstar in our game and I’m nowhere near him.” So when he unexpectedly summons you, it means a lot.
“I didn’t know much about it.” Someone told me a few bits and pieces, but it doesn’t matter. A compliment from anyone out here is amazing, but coming from him is enormous.
“A lot of the time, Rory is ‘the’ player out here. I know he’s not playing to his standards right now, but that just shows how excellent he is. The fact that he’s still where he is in the world shows what a tremendous player he is when he’s not playing to his standards.”
Scott hitting 63 seemed implausible when he was at one-under for the day after bogeys at 10 and 11, but the former Masters champion played the final seven holes in an incredible eight under, with four birdies and eagles at the 14th and 18th.
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