By Frank Pingue
ROCHESTER, New York (Reuters) - Staring into the eyes of a second consecutive missed cut at a major, defending champion Rory McIlroy mounted a late charge on Friday that ensured he will see weekend action at the PGA Championship.
McIlroy, desperate to regain his form after a nightmarish seven months, finished strongly with four birdies over his final seven holes to move comfortably above the projected cutline.
"It makes me feel good because maybe in the middle of the season or a couple of months ago I wouldn't have been standing up here. I would have been going home," McIlroy told reporters.
"It's good to be able to do that and fight back and makes you feel good about yourself going into the weekend."
McIlroy, a two-times major winner who missed the cut at last month's British Open, changed club manufacturers at the start of the season and, apart from a few flashes of brilliance, has been struggling to recapture his form.
The 24-year-old Northern Irishman had a morale-boosting one-under-par 69 in Thursday's opening round and battled his way to a 71 on Friday that left him at even par for the tournament, four shots clear of the projected cut line.
McIlroy's day at rainy Oak Hill Country Club got off to a rough start as he three-putted for a bogey on the par-four 10th, his first hole of the day. A birdie at the par-four 14th got him back to level for the round but he fell apart around the turn.
He found a greenside bunker at the 171-yard par-three 15th and went on to card a double-bogey after three-putting. Three consecutive bogeys from the 17th had him at five over for the day and four over for the tournament.
But McIlroy, who birdied the third and fourth holes in his opening round, repeated the feat on Friday and picked up another shot at the seventh, where he drained a 40-foot putt from just off the green, and eighth holes before ending with a par.
"I needed to make some birdies to, I guess, just guarantee myself for the weekend, but try and get myself back in the tournament," said McIlroy.
"It was pleasing to see that. I had some nice shots coming in and more importantly for me hit some good putts coming in, which was good to see."
It has been a rough season for McIlroy, a richly talented player who last year reached the top of the world rankings and won the orders of merit on both sides of the Atlantic.
He is seven shots behind clubhouse leader Adam Scott but is excited about his prospects for the weekend, which he will enter with an added boost of confidence.
"Walking up the second hole, which was my 11th hole today, all I wanted to do is be here for the weekend. All of sudden, I'm somewhat back in the tournament," said McIlroy.
"I get off to a fast start tomorrow and I'm right there. So it's giving me a lot of a nice bit of momentum going into tomorrow."
(Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)