PITTSFORD, N.Y. – Rory McIlroy already was 5 over for his round and appeared headed to another short week in a major. He finished with four birdies on the last eight holes, including a 40-foot putt from off the green, and achieved a first in his PGA Tour career.

He made his first cut at a tournament when he was the defending champion.

The sample size is small — this was only his fourth time as defending champ — but the 24-year-old from Northern Ireland was no less pleased. Considering the way his season has gone, he’ll take even the most modest of victories.

“I’m obviously standing up pretty happy about the day,” McIlroy said after rallying for a 71 to post two rounds at even-par 140. “Had a nice finish to the round.”

McIlroy previously missed the cut when defending at Quail Hollow in 2011, the U.S. Open in 2012 and the Honda Classic this year when he withdrew in the middle of the second round.

RELIVING HISTORY: Steve Stricker felt privileged to witness someone trying to become the first player to shoot a 62 in a major, even though he had the chance himself.

He just didn’t remember much of that day at Atlanta Athletic Club, when Stricker missed a 10-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole and had to settle for a 63 in the opening round of the 2011 PGA Championship.

“I literally didn’t even think about the putt that I had on the last hole to break the mark,” said Stricker, who played in Jason Dufner’s group Friday. “I was just so engrossed in what I was doing and shooting the lowest score possible that I really didn’t even pay attention to how many under I was and what I was shooting at the time. So I was able to kind of enjoy Dufner’s more than I was able to enjoy mine.”

Dufner had a 12-foot birdie putt for a 62 but he left it short.

“But it was just a great round of golf,” Stricker said. “He played great and it was fun to see.”

KAYMER’S EXPECTATIONS: Martin Kaymer of Germany reached No. 1 in the world in early 2011 and stayed there for eight weeks. He has won only one tournament since then, and has yet to finish in the top 10 of a major since winning the PGA Championship in 2010 at Whistling Straits.

Kaymer resurfaced at Oak Hill with a pair of 68s, falling only five shots out of the lead going into the weekend.

Getting to the top of the ranking came sooner than he expected, and Kaymer said he felt his game was still a work in progress.

“To be honest with you, when I became No. 1 it was a surprise,” he said.

“I was not playing like the best player on the planet. I didn’t feel like the best player. And therefore I needed to change a few things.”

Kaymer said the hardest part was the burden of expectations and the distractions — he had more fans and a lot more media attention.

That’s why he is impressed with how Rory McIlroy handled the fame.

“He’s still very young and he’s a good kid, and I don’t see any problem,” Kaymer said.

LEFTY CAN’T GET IT RIGHT: Phil Mickelson stayed on the practice range until sunset Thursday working with Coach Butch Harmon, trying to find the swing that brought him a British Open title only three weeks ago.

He hit his opening tee shot into deep rough on the left. His next tee shot went into a bunker right of the flag.

Mickelson, remarkably, went out in 34 despite not having a clear sense where the ball was going. It caught up with him on the front nine, however, with two bogeys and no birdies. Mickelson shot another 71 and was toward the bottom of the pack.

DIVOTS: Angel Cabrera withdrew in the middle of his second round with a wrist injury. The two-time major champion opened with an 80 and was 2 over for his round when he stopped.

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