After all, he still is leading the PGA Championship and, more important, he did not do anything close to what Jason Day did. As he was wrapping up his round, he saw a leaderboard that showed Kevin Kisner and Hideki Matsuyama at 8 under for the tournament, and suddenly McIlroy's bid to end a three-year drought in the majors became that much more hard.
"I feel like my game truly suits the other three majors maybe more than a PGA", Spieth admitted.
"I'm obviously not scoring well, and I hit the ball in every bad spot, " Mickelson said after finishing 36 holes at 153, 11-over par and well outside the projected cut line. He made only one birdie - at No. 12, the fourth-toughest hole on the course - and shot 73 to fall 11 shots behind.
"I had a chance to run away from guys and take people out of the tournament who were four, five or six back and I didn't do it", Kisner said, after he ended what had been a solid round by making double bogey (with a water ball) on No. 16 and bogey on No. 18. "Disappointing would have been going home after two days", he said. "I'm healthy. And just let it fall into place'".
"But I'll be surprised if the cut doesn't blow out to five (over)", said Scott. "I haven't hit it this well this whole summer".
He put himself in position to supplant Tiger Woods as the youngest player ever to complete a collection of the four major professional titles by winning last month's British Open after his 2015 wins at the Masters and U.S. Open. He found his putting touch last week when he shot 61 in the final round to win at Firestone, and he is riding that momentum.
Odds are Quail Hollow won't be the same test the rest of the way.
LEADERS: Matsuyama and Kisner were at 8-under 134, and this is the first time for either player to be atop the leaderboard after any round of a major. "You're out there, hopefully you get it in the fairway and you just have to go at it because if you hit it 25 feet behind it, it's just a tough 2-putt".
Matsuyama took advantage of greens softened by an afternoon storm, reeling off five birdies in a six-hole stretch with a series of pinpoint approach shots to card a seven-under-par 64, a course record in light of the redesign of Quail Hollow before the championship.
Moments after almost carding a hole-in-one on the par-3 13th, Canadian Graham DeLaet almost had a hole-in-one on the par-4 14th hole.
What does Spieth think he needs to shoot Saturday to get back in the mix? He followed with a bogey on the par-4 18th hole to make the turn at 1 over.
He repaired most of the damage with birdies at the eighth and ninth but leaked another shot at the 10th before posting three successive birdies from the 14th.
McGirt will stay in the Tar Heel state for next week's Wyndham Championship in Greensboro at Sedgefield Country Club.
Top scores (USA unless specified): 67: Thorbjorn Olesen (Den), Kevin Kisner. He could extend the streak of elite-level major winners if he plays on Sunday like he did on Saturday.
Rodd Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5182.