Rory McIlroy showed he can adopt a variety of strategies around Carnoustie as he made light of the tough conditions to move into contention heading into the weekend at the 147th Open.
After playing his first round aggressively on sun-baked, difficult links, taking a driver at any opportunity, McIlroy switched to a more conservative, strategic policy as the rain fell in his second round.
Both methods produced scores of two-under-par 69 to leave McIlroy right in the centre of things and sitting pretty as the third major of the year moves towards its conclusion tomorrow evening.
The 29-year-old, still searching for a fifth major title four years after his most recent successes at the 2014 Open and PGA Championships, had hit only 27% of the 15 fairways in his first round but with more irons in his hand off the tee yesterday and the driver only coming out of the bag six times, he raised that figure to 47% on a cold, wet day on the eastern Scottish coast.
He could improve some more, there is little doubt about that, but it was a sign of greater patience and better control and McIlroy was satisfied with the progress.
“I didn’t hit driver as much today, so I didn’t have as much of a chance to hit it offline. But there were still some shots today where I missed the sixth fairway by probably 30 yards. I missed the 17th by about 30 yards.
“This is different than the Carnoustie we usually play — there are bailouts on either side of these fairways. If you know where they are, at the last minute, if you’re not quite in the right position, you know that, OK if I hit it out to the right here, I’m going to be fine.
“I feel good. I hit the ball better. I hit a lot of really good iron shots today, especially short and mid-irons, and I putted well. So that combination is hopefully going to do well over the weekend.”
McIlroy has been pleased he is making good on his commitment to throw off the shackles a little but not every day allows him to throw caution to the wind and play the carefree golf of his youth, the sort that won him the Silver Medal for low amateur on the same course at the 2007 Open.
“Today was different. It was definitely a day where, don’t shoot yourself out of the tournament instead of trying to press on and build a lead or get an advantage.
“But, yeah, look, I’ve been a little bit too careful and tentative, you know, when I’ve been in these big tournaments. Last day at Augusta, even the first day at Shinnecock (in last month’s US Open), I just felt a little bit too... I was holding on a little too much.
“So this week, one of my main thoughts is just to let it go. Just go out there and give it your all, and I’d rather feel by trying 100% than by sort of holding back and maybe not giving myself the opportunity to do well.”
McIlroy has certainly opened the door to a potential victory over these first two days at Carnoustie, adapting well to the changing conditions and succeeding with different strategies thus far. Yesterday’s second round saw patience as the discipline that underpin a solid day’s work in the sort of rain that would have once made for a dispiriting day.
“I just kept level-headed when I needed to, and you know what, I didn’t let the conditions get to me. I wasn’t sort of saying to myself, ‘geez, I wish I was on the other side of the draw’. I just sort of got on with it. That was really it. I just put my head down and got on with it. I knew if I went out and shot another score under par, I’d be in great position going into the weekend. That was really it.
“So yeah, a lot of patience. I was going really well through 11 holes. I hadn’t made a bogey. I would have loved to have had a bogey-free round. I made a bogey on 12 and 15, but I made enough birdies to cancel them out on the back nine.
“You need patience. I got a few good up-and-downs when I needed to today. On a day like that, you need to scramble and keep yourself in it.
“It was nice today. It was rainy, but it wasn’t too bad, and there wasn’t a lot of wind to contend with. So it was fine. It wasn’t, you know, it can get a little bit uncomfortable at times, but you just deal with it and do the best you can. I’ve definitely learned to handle it a little better.”