Rory McIlroy will try and forget his recent Friday woes today as he bids to extend his one-shot first-round lead and take a firm grip on the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool.
The strong opening round, as laudable as his bogey-free six-under-par 66 was yesterday, has come to be expected from McIlroy, whose lowest rounds of the season on both sides of the Atlantic, a 63 have come on a Thursday. He leads the PGA Tour in first-round scoring average on 68.00 and a week ago carded a course-record 64 at Royal Aberdeen in the Scottish Open.
Thursdays, then, are not the problem. What follows is the cause of McIlroy’s grief, his Scottish 64 parlaying into a 78 and the Memorial 63 succeeded by a 78. It has got to the point where the two-time major winner admitted before this week’s Open began that the “Freaky Friday” issue was getting inside his head.
So he will go into today’s second round protecting a one-shot lead over Italy’s Matteo Manassero, who leads a chasing pack that numbers 18 golfers within three shots of his lead, including fellow Irishman Shane Lowry, two shots off the pace after defying the more difficult afternoon and evening conditions to shoot a 68.
Another late finisher was Greystones Paul Dunne, the amateur US collegiate golfer, who held his own in the twilight to card a three-over 75, just the sort of score McIlroy has been capable of on any sort of a day as long as it’s Friday.
“Whenever I go out and play on Thursdays there’s not really many expectations,” McIlroy said yesterday after his round. “You’re going out there and you’re trying to find a rhythm, and you’re just trying to play your way into the round.
“When you go back out on Friday after a good score, you know what you can do on the golf course. So you’re going out with some expectations compared to when on Thursday you’re going out with not many.
“I think I’ve just got to approach it like that, and start off trying to hit solid shots the first few holes and play my way into the round. I hit some really good shots yesterday on the first holes and that gave me confidence and then I could go from there. But really, just take it one hole at a time, one shot at a time. I know everyone says it and you’ve heard it a million times, but it’s true. That’s what I’ll be trying to do.
“I feel like I’m well-prepared this week for whatever the conditions. I’ve practiced in windy conditions the last few weeks. I’ve practiced the shots that I might need for a bad day like today might be. Will that help in any way? It might do, because you’re really just concentrating on one shot at a time when the weather is like that. It’s not like I’ve shot good scores in first rounds and haven’t backed them up before. I’m used to doing that. I just haven’t done it recently. We’ll see what today brings and what weather it is and try and handle it as best I can.”
McIlroy is reminded of his recent Friday woes every time he looks at his PGA Tour second-round scoring average, 72.89, ranking him 181st. Yet his playing partner yesterday, Jordan Spieth, who finished one under, said he saw enough in McIlroy’s play to think Friday won’t be on his mind.
“He’s got these Friday round jitters he’s been talking about but I think that’ll change,” Spieth said. “The way he played yesterday, the way he is striking it. He hasn’t holed many putts, not many long ones and he’s bound to putt well. He’s the one to beat.”
There are plenty players on the leaderboard prepared to give chase with Manassero one shot behind and a shot ahead of six players at four under, including world number one Adam Scott and Ireland’s in-form Shane Lowry, who put together an extremely impressive back-nine of 32, having made the turn in one over par. Frustrated by his lack of progress and a poor drive at the 10th, Lowry stepped on the gas and rattled off three birdies in-a-row, capping off the day with a birdie at the last to hint that he is finally ready to make the leap into the big leagues.
“I was losing my cool a little bit, I was giving myself a bit of a talking to, and a birdie there (at 10) really settled me down,” Lowry said. “I played the back nine lovely, I gave myself a lot of chances and could have made one or two more but I’ll take that score.
“I’m in a nice position coming into today, I’ll just get home and have a good night’s rest and hopefully go out in the same frame of mind tomorrow morning (today).”
The competition at this early stage does not end with Lowry as Tiger is also lurking with intent on three under in a 10-man group having recovered from a bogey-bogey start in what is his first major of the year.
It’s a crowded leaderboard and one McIlroy will be extremely pleased to stay on top of by the end of a day that has invited so much self-imposed scrutiny.
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