By Mark Lamport-Stokes
KOHLER, Wisconsin (Reuters) - Rory McIlroy says he has been greatly encouraged by his overall play at this week's PGA Championship but needs to improve his short game over the weekend to have a realistic chance of successfully defending his title.
Back in tournament mode after nearly two months out because of an ankle injury, the Northern Irish world number one stayed on the fringe of contention at Whistling Straits with a second successive one-under-par 71 in receptive conditions on Friday.
His only real complaints were over his putting and scrambling ability, or lack thereof.
"I felt like I played good in parts," McIlroy told reporters after totaling 28 putts to trail the clubhouse lead by five strokes.
"Drove the ball pretty well again. Maybe my iron play wasn't quite as good as it was yesterday and the greens that I did miss I wasn't very sharp around them.
"You're going to miss greens around here. You're going to have to have more of a short game to be able to salvage par sometimes. I wasn't quite able to do that today at points."
McIlroy, competing this week for the first time since he tied for ninth in the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay in June, produced a mixed bag in the second round as he eagled the second while also throwing in two birdies, a bogey and a double.
"But there's still enough good stuff to give me encouragement and make me feel that I can shoot a low one tomorrow and get myself back into it," said the 26-year-old, a four-times major winner.
"I didn't putt as well as I would have liked so maybe just work on that a little bit before I tee off tomorrow. It would be great to hole a few more putts, because I feel like I'm giving myself plenty of chances."
McIlroy did not want to apportion any blame to tournament rust after being sidelined since he ruptured an ankle ligament while playing soccer with friends on July 4, and was happy with his quick adjustment on his return this week.
"That was probably one of the most surprising things ... how quickly I got back into the mindset of tournament golf," he said.
(Editing by Andrew Both)