Rory McIlroy stretches British Open lead to four shots
Irishman dispels any doubts over his ability to put two good rounds together by posting second 66
Rory McIlroy acknowledges the crowd after making a birdie putt on the 15th green. Photograph: Cathal McNaughton/Reuters
The phobia, if ever it really existed, was banished with an assuredness which only the truly great players possess. And Rory McIlroy, using his clubs to fend off whatever evils have supposedly lurked in the long grasses of his second rounds, was a man in control of everything he did in the second round of the 143rd Open Championship at Royal Liverpool Golf Club.
In shooting a second successive 66 for a midway total of 132, 12-under-par, McIlroy - the 25-year-old from Holywood, Co Down - established a four-stroke lead over American Dustin Johnson. Tiger Woods, who suffered a triple-bogey seven on his penultimate hole, was forced to birdie the 18th for a 77 that got him in on the cut mark, which fell on two-over 146.
If the prophets of doom had posited the idea that McIlroy was averse to following a fine opening round with another on Friday, the answer was delivered in the most emphatic fashion of all. Indeed, the greater concern moving forward for McIlroy would appear to be the horrendous weather forecast which forced the R&A to move forward tee-times for the third round to be played in three-balls and with a two-tee start.
The only storm on any horizon in Friday’s second round was the one created by McIlroy, as he recovered from an opening bogey - almost as if teasing - to produce a round of seven birdies to take a strangle-hold on the championship.
As Woods laboured, McIlroy flourished. On the eighth green, a pheasant briefly interrupted his thought process but, in truth, that was one of the few occasions his mind and body were distracted from working in synch.
McIlroy was a strong frontrunner in his two career Major successes: the 2011 US Open at Congressional and the 2012 US PGA at Kiawah Island. As Tom Watson, who defied aging limbs to make the cut in his 37th appearance in the championship, put it: “He’s pretty good at front-running . . . . I watched him (on Thursday) and he played the way Tiger did in 2006 when he won here, he was taking dead aim at every flag.”
For sure, McIlroy dispensed with the notion that he had trouble following up one good round with another. Firstly, he put his hands up. “My second rounds this year have been terrible, and there isn’t really any explanation,” before adding: “But hopefully I put it to bed.”
McIlroy went about his business with aplomb, recovering from the opening bogey to claim birdies on the fifth, sixth and, after waiting for his turn to putt whilst the pheasant walked across the green, the eighth. “Once I got to eight (under), I felt like, okay, this time I feel good. I can get to eight. I can get to eight, nine, 10, 11, 12.” He turned in 33 and added further birdies on the 10th, 15th, 17th - after hitting a 396 yards drive - and completed his work with a finishing birdie on the 18th to show his dominance.
There was a calmness about his demeanour, an assuredness about all that he did. McIlroy was in a zone. “It’s just a state of mind where you think clearly. Everything seems to be on the right track. I’ve always said, whenever you play this well, you always wonder how you’ve played so badly before. And whenever you’ve play so badly, you always wonder how you play so well. Golf is a very fickle game. I’m happy where my game is at the minute, and hopefully I can just keep up the solid play for another couple of days.”
Whilst McIlroy’s driving was the foundation - he used the big stick six times in all - for his scoring, all other elements of his game were in place. His time spent playing links golf in recent weeks, at Royal County Down, at Hoylake and at Royal Aberdeen have enabled him to play whatever shot is required at whatever time.
But there’s more. “I’ve got a couple little words, trigger words that I’m using this week, that I sort of keep telling myself in my head when I’m on my way around the golf course, when I’m just about to hit it, go into a shot. But that’s really it. That’s as complex as it gets in my head.”
McIlroy reached the midpoint as the front runner, four shots clear of Johnson and with six players grouped together in tied-third a shot further back. Shane Lowry (75 for 143), Graeme McDowell (69 for 143) and Darren Clarke (72 for 144) also survived the cut, with McDowell producing four birdies on his homeward run to revive his own challenge.
“Two 66s from Rory is a bit special, but he is just that, he is a bit special.So he’s going to be tough to catch this weekend if he keeps that up, I’m sure,” said McDowell.
For Pádraig Harirngton, there was sadness beyond missing the cut. On finishing his round, he was informed that his one-time coach Bob Torrance had passed away after a long fight with cancer.
“It does put things in perspective. Put it like this, he lived a full life, that’s for sure. He is one man whose life can be celebrated. He made a big difference to a lot of people in a great way. He loved his golf,” said Harrington, forever thankful for the part Torrance played in his career.