Rory McIlroy exorcised his Friday demons in style as Tiger Woods almost paid the ultimate price for abandoning the tactics which previously brought him victory at Royal Liverpool in the second round of the 143rd Open Championship.
Woods famously used his driver just once in 72 holes on his way to a third Open title in 2006 and was similarly circumspect in an opening 69 on Thursday.
However, wayward drives on the first two holes and an even worse one out of bounds on the 17th meant the 14-time major winner had to birdie the 18th – his only birdie of the day – just to be sure of making the halfway cut.
Woods missed the cut on his return from back surgery in the Quicken Loans National last month and holing from six feet on the last means he has still to make early exits from consecutive events in his professional career. The 38-year-old’s last round in a major championship without a birdie had come on the opening day of the 2010 US Open.
A round of 77 left Woods 14 shots adrift of halfway leader McIlroy, who carded a second consecutive 66 to finish 12 under par, matching Woods’ halfway total of 132 in 2006.
McIlroy has made an unfortunate habit of following good rounds on Thursday with bad ones on Friday in 2014, the latest example being scores of 64 and 78 in the Scottish Open last week. A similar sequence at the Memorial at Muirfield Village even had tournament host Jack Nicklaus asking ’How the hell can you shoot 63 and then 78?’
In total he was 50 under par in the first round and nine over par in the second until carding seven birdies and just one bogey on Friday to boost his chances of becoming only the third player in the modern era – after Woods and Jack Nicklaus - to win three majors by the age of 25.
It is the first time McIlroy has led at halfway in a major since the 2011 US Open, when he went on to win his first major by eight shots after rewriting the record books at Congressional.
And by getting the benefit of the best conditions with early-late tee times it made amends for leading the 2010 Open at St Andrews with an opening 63 only to follow it with an 80 in atrocious conditions.
McIlroy could have been forgiven for fearing the worst when he bogeyed the first hole after overshooting the green, but with the wind dropping he regained the lead with a two-putt birdie on the fifth and moved two ahead with another birdie on the sixth.
Even the distraction of a pheasant wandering across the eighth green as he lined up another birdie putt failed to prevent McIlroy from picking up another shot, while he also birdied the 10th before surprisingly missing from four feet on the 11th.
The Northern Irishman did then hole from that distance on the 15th after a superb tee shot and a drive of almost 400 yards on the 17th set up another, while he pitched to four feet on the last to end in style.
In contrast, Woods pulled his opening drive so badly that it ended in thick rough to the left of the fairway on the adjacent 18th, from where he missed the green with his approach and hacked his third shot onto the green and off the other side.
From there he chipped on and two-putted for a double bogey, while his drive on the second also found the rough and his approach ran over the back of the green to lead to a bogey.
A run of 14 straight pars was then followed by a wild drive out of bounds on the 17th to run up a triple-bogey seven which suddenly dropped him outside the cut line and it took typical determination to birdie the last and make the weekend.