Rory McIlroy 10 shots off the lead as Shane Lowry makes a charge
RORY McIlroy began his second round with a moment of magic, but even a late rally saw him end it 10 shots off the lead in the 99th US PGA Championship.
McIlroy was in danger of missing the halfway cut for the fourth time in his last seven major appearances after dropping four shots in the space of five holes at Quail Hollow.
And although he birdied the next two and came agonisingly close to making it a hat-trick on the ninth, his final hole of the day, the 28-year-old's second successive 72 left him two-over par.
American Kevin Kisner had set the early halfway target at eight-under par after his second straight 67, with Rickie Fowler his nearest challenger in the clubhouse on three-under.
However, last week's WGC Invitational winner Hideki Matsuyama was threatening to challenge Kisner's supremacy before a weather delay halted him in his tracks.
The Japanese superstar was five-under after 14 holes of his second round before the rain came, and six-under overall.
Former World number one and US PGA winner two years ago Jason Day was another who was moving into contention. He picked up four shots through his first 10 holes to move from one-under to five-under, just three shots off the lead.
One shot further behind Day on four-under were Louis Oosthuizen (10 holes played) and Chris Stroud (6).
Fowler was alone on three-under but Ireland's Shane Lowry was making a fine job of playing himself into contention, picking up five shots in his first 15 holes to move from three-over to two-under.
Graeme McDowell could manage only a five-over 76 and on seven-over overall he was having a weekend off, as was Padraig Harrington who was two-over through nine holes for his second round, but 10-over for the tournament.
McIlroy, meanwhile, was feeling far from out of the tournament despite being 10 shots behind Kisner.
"I thought conditions were just as tough, if not tougher this morning, as they were yesterday," said McIlroy, whose only major victory when trailing after 36 holes came when he was two behind in the 2012 US PGA.
"I was battling. I was scrambling well to be under par for that back nine. I probably didn't quite hit it as well off the tee as I did yesterday and wasn't putting myself in positions where I could go at a lot of pins.
"I had a little bit of a mini-rally at the end which I needed, but the four bogeys on the front nine that's just down to being out of position off the tee and not being able to get it very close with my second shot.
"Hopefully (I can) tidy that up going into tomorrow, but obviously Kis is on fire right now. But take him out of the equation, I feel like I'm still right there in the tournament."
McIlroy admitted his situation could easily have been a lot worse, especially after he carved his second shot on the 591-yard 10th over the crowd and saw it bound down a cart path which runs along the side of the 11th.
The ball eventually came to rest just off the path and left the world number four with a seemingly impossible third shot from around 60 yards, but he produced a brilliant low pitch which bounced off the path, through a bunker and ran across the green before stopping on the fringe.
From there McIlroy chipped to two feet and holed for par, giving a wry smile and raising his eyebrows to members of the media as he made his way to the 11th tee.
"It was really the only option I had," McIlroy explained. "I dropped it in a pretty bad lie, so I couldn't carry it over the cart path. So I hit a six iron and just said, 'okay, I'll bounce it up the cart path and see where this goes'.
"Luckily it got out of the bunker and on to the other side. That could have been a six or a seven quite easily so to get away with a five, I actually felt pretty good about myself going to the next tee."
A birdie on the 15th helped McIlroy to the turn in 35, but he then bogeyed the second, third, fifth and sixth to lie outside the projected cut mark, before birdies on the seventh and eighth saw him safely through to the weekend.