Rory McIlroy will have to find another day to fret over after his Friday at the Open proved far from freaky at Royal Liverpool.
Ireland’s two-time Major winner, breaking recent type, followed up his first-round-leading, six-under-par 66 with another round of the score and it was no less scintillating.
McIlroy now goes into today’s third round with a four-shot lead at 12 under par over American Dustin Johnson, who followed the Holywood golfer in with the round of the day, a 65.
That booked him a place in the final group this afternoon, which will now be a three-ball with Francesco Molinari, the R&A revising its schedule by introducing a two-tee start for the first time in the history of the championship to allow for heavy morning thunderstorms.
It seems little could disrupt McIlroy right now, with his fine play yesterday laying to rest any head-wrecking phobias he had developed this year for tournament second rounds which have so frequently undone some seriously good work on Thursdays.
Yet this was not someone who only three days previously had admitted woeful Fridays were messing with his head. Instead, this was the McIlroy who dominated Congressional Country Club to win his first Major at the 2011 US Open in record-breaking fashion, the boy who would tear up Kiawah Island to win his second Major at the 2012 PGA Championship.
“It’s nice to go out and shoot a good one today,” McIlroy said, “so I don’t have to be asked about it again until I might shoot a good score at Akron [in two weeks], and then people are asking me on Thursday afternoon. It’s understandable. People ask you.
“My second rounds this year have been terrible. And there isn’t really any explanation. But hopefully I put it to bed today.”
McIlroy had challenged himself to break the Thursday-Friday hoodoo which had seen him shoot 64-78 last week at the Scottish Open, the latest in a long line of violent score swings between first and second rounds.
His opening 66 was in that regard, no surprise. The real test came yesterday but, as the 25-year-old strolled happily to the first tee, yesterday afternoon he did so in the knowledge that only Italian duo Francesco Molinari and Matteo Manassero had managed to close the gap on him, tying for the lead at six under while none of the morning starters, save for South African George Coetzee who shot an early 69 to get to five under, had managed to make an impression in the windiest weather of the day.
A bogey at the first for McIlroy might have set in train another wobble but it was his first of the tournament and his Italian rivals were also going backwards. The difference was, McIlroy’s was his only dropped shot of the day.
Not even a wandering pheasant, which strutted onto the eighth green as McIlroy prepared to putt, could stop the world No 8 from claiming a birdie of his own as the Irishman showcased all of his talents. “The pheasant on the eighth hole, yeah, I haven’t run into that before on the golf course. I might have had a swan or duck or geese or something, but never a pheasant.”
Now only Johnson lies within four shots where after 18 holes there had been 31 players, with Rickie Fowler, Sergio Garcia, Molinari, Ryan Moore and Charl Schwartzel sharing third place at six under and Coetzee tying for eighth with Jim Furyk and Louis Oosthuizen, the man who capitalised on McIlroy’s second-round woes in 2010, an 80 at St Andrews, to win that year’s Open.
Now the field can only hope for a third or fourth-round implosion after McIlroy sent down seven birdies in reply to that opening bogey, engineered with a mixture of great scrambling and otherwise pinpoint approach play, both of which led to some wonderful putting.
“I don’t know if I can describe it,” McIlroy said. “It’s just I feel quite, just like I have an inner peace on the golf course. I just feel very comfortable.I’m very comfortable doing what I’m doing right now.
“It’s hard to describe. I wish I could get into it more often. If I’m able to do it a few times a year, that’s nice. I think it’s a combination of confidence. It’s just being mentally strong, mentally aware of everything. But I think it all comes down to if you’re confident with your game and you’re in control of your ball out there, it makes things a lot easier.”
While McIlroy was zen-like, forging onwardtowards the third leg of a career Majors grand slam, 14-time winner Tiger Woods was living on his nerves just to make the weekend. Playing his first Major of the year following a season interrupted by back surgery, Woods, had impressed with a comeback 69 on Thursday but was nowhere near that form 24 hours later.
For the second day in a row he got off to bad start, doubling the first after finding the 18th fairway way to the left of his intended target off the tee, then bogeying the second having driven right before flying the green with his second shot.
This time there would not be the recovery he manufactured the previous round, Woods needing a birdie at the last to get to the cut mark at two over par.
He had never before missed a cut in consecutive tournaments but the signs were ominous when his approach at the par-five dribbled down the right-hand side of the green and came to rest in the rough, the wrong side of a greenside bunker. Suitably grim-faced he chipped over to leave himself a five-foot putt to seal a weekend’s play and duly completed the task.
Woods may be into the final two rounds but unless there is a miracle round tomorrow, there will be no Tiger-Rory duel on Sunday.
McIlroy has other matters to take care of.
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