Saturday, 09 August 2014
Mikko Ilonen  (Getty Images)
Mikko Ilonen (Getty Images)

It has been 13 years since Mikko Ilonen recorded the best Major finish of his career so far – a tie for ninth at the 2001 Open Championship – but he is perfectly placed at Valhalla thanks to a second round 68.

Four birdies in a row from the eighth were the foundation for the Finn’s charge at the year’s final Major, and while a couple of dropped shots at the 12th and 15th had looked like derailing him somewhat, he bounced back with a couple more gains on the final two holes to post seven under.

That sees him head into the weekend at the US PGA Championship in a tie for fourth, some two strokes behind the leading Rory McIlroy, as he looks to become the first male winner of one of golf’s big four to hail from Scandinavia.

He has already tasted victory in 2014 thanks to his Irish Open triumph at Fota Island back in June, and with the form he has shown so far this week, it would be a fool who discounted Ilonen from contention over the final 36 holes.

The 34 year old from Lahti in his native Finland is adamant that this is some of the best form he has shown in the US, and is fully aware that the weather gods were kind to those on his side of the draw, with the afternoon starters missing the worst of the weather on Friday.

“It's definitely been my two best days in America, golf wise, ever,” said Ilonen. “For some reason I've struggled on the courses I've been able to play over here, but maybe I’ve gathered some experience from the past, and now good play is giving me some results.

“I think we got lucky with the draw as we didn't really have much rain, and it was only on five, six and seven, when the wind was blowing a little bit and it was drizzling down, that we needed some umbrellas to keep us dry. Other than that it was fine.

“Being last off is never great, but I think it worked well for us this time.”

Bernd Wiesberger, while not Scandinavian, is a shot further back of Ilonen in a share of ninth, and he will have the same thing on his mind over the weekend – a maiden Major title for Austria.

He has only ever made one cut in his previous five starts in golf’s big four, but he has shown great maturity over the first 36 holes en route to consecutive rounds of 68.

The two time European Tour winner arrived at Valhalla early to prepare, and is reaping the rewards as he looks to improve on his Major record, which he is fully aware has not been the best so far.

“It's a different level for me,” said the man born in Vienna. “I've not been very successful in the Majors, as it's my sixth one and I’ve only made one cut so far, so it's disappointing how I've played in these events.

“I had some good preparation coming into this week as I had a couple weeks off and came here early to have a good look at the course. I've really enjoyed being here so far, and I think it shows in my play over the first two days.”

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