From freaky to fabulous. Rory McIlroy banished his Friday demons with a superb six-under-par 66 on the second day of the Open Championship here at Royal Liverpool to lead by four shots at the halfway stage.
The Northern Irishman has seen his fast starts to tournaments undone countless times over the past few months by diabolical second rounds but made no such mistakes on this occasion, recovering from a bogey at the first to card seven birdies on way to his second consecutive 66.
Dustin Johnson, on eight-under, is his nearest challenger, with six players two shots worse off in a tie for third.
Going into this week, McIlroy was a combined 51-under-par for his first rounds this year, as compared with a peculiar nine-over for his second rounds. Even so, he insists that wasn’t on his mind at the start of the day.
“I didn’t have that in my head at all,” said the former US Open and PGA champion. “Going out there, I just wanted to play another solid round of golf, stick to my game plan, stick to doing what I do well, which is take advantage of the par-5s and maybe take advantage of some of the other holes that were downwind. That’s all I was thinking about.
“My second rounds this year have been terrible and there isn’t really any explanation.” – Rory McIlroy
“I went out there and executed the game plan the way I wanted to, so it was just another really solid round of golf and I’ll need two more of those again.”
Whilst clearly growing weary of being asked about his miserable Fridays – he faced the same line of questioning at last week’s Scottish Open – McIlroy does concede that he gets people's fascination with it.
“It’s understandable,” he said. “My second rounds this year have been terrible and there isn’t really any explanation but, hopefully, I put it to bed today.”
Had his former Walker Cup opponent Johnson not eaten into his lead with birdies at the last two holes, some might be inclined to suggest that McIlroy already has one hand on the Claret Jug and is within touching distance of becoming just the third player in the modern era – after Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods – to have three major wins by the age of 25. He doesn’t see it that way, though.
“There’s still a lot of golf left to play,” he reasoned. “It’s a huge tournament, it’s the Open Championship and it’s one that I’d dearly love to win. But I’m trying not to let myself think about that. It’s only two rounds. There are still two rounds left. But I’m in a great position and we’ll just see how the next couple of days unfold.”
Can Rory McIlroy hang on?
He is 36 holes away from winning his third career major but will Rory McIlroy manage to maintain his lead? Leave your thoughts in our ‘Comments’ section below.