Rory McIlroy, playing for the first time in almost seven weeks because of a rib injury, is showing few signs of rust.
The 27-year-old from Northern Ireland, despite missing chances on the last three holes, shot 6-under-par 65 to take a two-stroke lead over Phil Mickelson, Justin Thomas and Ross Fisher of England in the WGC-Mexico Championship at Club de Golf Chapultepec in Mexico City.
McIlroy, who holed his second shot from 152 yards for an eagle on the 14th hole, was at 9-under 133 through 36 holes.
“I would have taken 65 at the start of the day, but I missed a birdie chance at No. 16 and then missed at 17 and 18, too,” said McIlroy, who is No. 3 in the world but can take the top spot with a victory this week. “I’m in great shape, but I could be a few more ahead going to the weekend. … I played really solid.
“I approached this week, I wouldn’t say with low expectations, but to see how it went and take each day as it came. My body feels good and if I keep playing the way I am, I have a great chance to win.”
Mickelson, seeking his first victory since the 2013 Open Championship at Muirfield, birdied two of the last four holes in a 68, Fisher had four birdies on his front nine while also posting a 68, and Thomas, a three-time winner this season, birdied the last two holes to card a 66.
Top-ranked Dustin Johnson birdied three of the last four holes to finish at 66 and was three shots back in a tie for fifth with Andy Sullivan of England, who holed out from 133 yards for an eagle on the ninth hole in a 65, and Daniel Berger, who sank a 12-foot birdie putt on his last hole for a 66.
J.B. Holmes drove the first green and holed a 23-foot eagle putt en route to a 68 and was three strokes behind in a tie for eighth with Roberto Castro (68), Tyrrell Hatton (67) of England, Fabrizio Zanotti (69) of Paraguay, Thomas Pieters (69) of Belgium, Jon Rahm (70) of Spain and Martin Kaymer (67) of Germany.
Defending champion Adam Scott of Australia struggled to a 76 and was tied for 68th.