Rory McIlroy plans all guns blazing assault on Claret Jug

McIlroy two shots behind joint leaders Zach Johnson and Kevin Kisner

On an idiosyncratic day which didn’t know whether it was coming or going, one which firstly doused the early wave of players with cool rain only for the later starters to benefit from a softened links and calmer conditions, the upshot in this 147th British Open was that Rory McIlroy – on the wrong side of the Jekyll and Hyde drawsheet – stubbornly stood his ground to stay very much in contention.

The casualty list, indeed, contained some misfiring big guns. Dustin Johnson, the world number one, and Justin Thomas, the man right behind him, failed to survive the midway cut and it would have been a 1-2-3 only for Justin Rose, third in the rankings, to make it by the skin of his teeth after he showed great fortitude to close out with a birdie on the 18th green to secure his place for the final two rounds. Jon Rahm also departed.

And so too Shane Lowry, who – providing shockwaves of a different kind – broke up, whether permanently or not, with his long-time caddie Dermot Byrne in mid-championship. Lowry had his coach Neil Manchip filling in as bagman for a second round that ultimately got away from him with late bogeys on the 16th and 17th.

As quietness gathered in the evening, the stillness broken only by the sound of the seagulls who remained on till the final putt of a long day's play finished, the names atop the giant yellow leaderboard on the grandstand by the final green showed that Zach Johnson, a two-time Major champion, and his housemate Kevin Kisner, chasing a breakthrough Major, led the way on 136, six under par, a stroke clear of chasing trio Tommy Fleetwood, Xander Schauffle and Pat Perez.

For sure, it’s a packed leaderboard; but one that had a potpourri scent, a mixture of those who have lifted Major titles before and those getting the whiff of such glory for a first time.

And within touching distance, just two shots adrift of the co-leaders, lay McIlroy. The 29-year-old Northern Irishman was required to adjust his intended gameplan when his morning start featured conditions of cool air and a persistent rain – sometimes drizzly, sometimes heavier – meant his strategy to overpower the course was replaced by a more conservative plan.

As it was, McIlroy penned his signature to a second successive 69 – for 138 – to sit readily positioned to attack. “I feel like there are low rounds in me,” he confessed, adding: “I felt very comfortable out there. I played well within myself.”

One thing is for sure, McIlroy didn’t bemoan his lot for getting on the wrong side of the draw. There was no slumping of shoulders, no throwing toys out of the pram. “I just kept level-headed when I needed to, didn’t let the conditions get to me. I wasn’t say to myself, ‘geez, I wish I was on the other side of the draw’. I just got on with it.”

With the last of his four Majors claimed at the 2014 US PGA Championship, McIlroy – himself – has felt he went into more recent Majors “worrying too much about the result, not focusing as much on the process.”

It has been a learning curve in its own way. His failure to challenge in the final round at Augusta, for instance, was a case in point. “Even if I hadn’t won that tournament, but went down [fighting] and aggressive and committing to every shot, I would have walked away a lot happier.”

So it is that all these months on his mindset has changed. “I’ve been a little too careful and tentative . . . I’m going to go down swinging and I’m going to go down giving it my best. I was focusing on the result too much, but the result is just the byproduct of all the little things you do to lead up to that. I’ve sometimes forgotten that and just needed to get back in that mindset. I’m in a great position going into the third day.”

And the plan of attack, with better weather conditions forecast, is for the driver to become his club of choice off the tee as he reverts to the aggressive gameplan for the weekend in his bid to hunt down those ahead of him.

"I think he knows what he is doing," agreed Pádraig Harrington, who walked away with the Claret Jug when the championship was last staged here in 2007. On this occasion, the Dubliner – along with Lowry and Darren Clarke – were among the casualties.

McIlroy and Paul Dunne were the only two Irish players to make it to the weekend, with Dunne adding a 73 for a 36-holes total of 144, one shot inside the cut mark. Dunne, indeed, showed his own resolve with three closing pars over the tough stretch from the 16th in to ensure his presence for the weekend.

Fleetwood's 65 was the best round of the day, again demonstrating his upwardly mobile trending towards a Major having featured in the final pairing in the last round of last month's US Open. His conqueror on that occasion, Brooks Koepka, showed his combative instincts with a second round 68 that moved him up 32 places to a share of 18th and just five adrift.

Jordan Spieth's survival instincts also kicked in, as the defending champion produced a 67 for 139 to ensure the banter in the rental house – which also accommodates the leaders Johnson and Kisner as well as Rickie Fowler – will be of which of them, if any, can claim the title this time around.

“I look at Augusta and the Open Championship as probably my two best opportunities in a year, the best tournaments for me. I love the imagination needed over here, said Spieth . “I know my swing’s not exactly where I want it to be, nowhere near where it was at Birkdale [last year], but the short game’s on point and the swing’s working the right direction to get that confidence back.

Kisner and Johnson just might start looking over their shoulders sooner rather than later.

(Par 71, British and Irish unless stated, (a) denotes amateur)

136 Zach Johnson (USA) 69 67, Kevin Kisner (USA) 66 70

137 Pat Perez (USA) 69 68, Xander Schauffele (USA) 71 66, Tommy Fleetwood 72 65

138 Tony Finau (USA) 67 71, Rory McIlroy 69 69, Zander Lombard (Rsa) 67 71, Matt Kuchar (USA) 70 68, Erik Van Rooyen (Rsa) 67 71

139 Rickie Fowler (USA) 70 69, Kevin Chappell (USA) 70 69, Jordan Spieth (USA) 72 67

140 Luke List (USA) 70 70, Thorbjorn Olesen (Den) 70 70, Brandon Stone (Rsa) 68 72, Danny Willett 69 71

141 Charley Hoffman (USA) 71 70, Kyle Stanley (USA) 72 69, Adam Scott (Aus) 71 70, Alex Noren (Swe) 70 71, Sung Kang (Kor) 69 72, Patrick Cantlay (USA) 70 71, Matthew Southgate 69 72, Webb Simpson (USA) 70 71, Brooks Koepka (USA) 72 69, Eddie Pepperell 71 70, Ryan Moore (USA) 68 73

142 Jason Day (Aus) 71 71, Francesco Molinari (Ita) 70 72, Tiger Woods (USA) 71 71, Austin Cook (USA) 72 70, Shaun Norris (Rsa) 74 68, Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa) 72 70, Stewart Cink (USA) 72 70, Phil Mickelson (USA) 73 69, Lucas Herbert (Aus) 73 69, Michael Kim (USA) 73 69, Sean Crocker (USA) 71 71

143 Satoshi Kodaira (Jpn) 72 71, Marcus Kinhult (Swe) 74 69, Beau Hossler (USA) 73 70, Gary Woodland (USA) 71 72, Adam Hadwin (Can) 73 70, Cameron Davis (Aus) 71 72, Si Woo Kim (Kor) 71 72, Kevin Na (USA) 70 73, Haotong Li (Chn) 71 72, Julian Suri (USA) 74 69, Yuta Ikeda (Jpn) 70 73, Thomas Pieters (Bel) 70 73

144 Bernhard Langer (Ger) 73 71, Chris Wood 70 74, Byeong-Hun An (Kor) 73 71, Brendan Steele (USA) 68 76, Shubhankar Sharma (Ind) 73 71, Brett Rumford (Aus) 74 70, Cameron Smith (Aus) 73 71, Paul Dunne 71 73, Marc Leishman (Aus) 72 72, Paul Casey 73 71, Rafael Cabrera-Bello (Esp) 74 70, Masahiro Kawamura (Jpn) 77 67, Lee Westwood 72 72

145 Ross Fisher 75 70, Jason Dufner (USA) 75 70, Rhys Enoch 74 71, Ryan Fox (Nzl) 74 71, Sam Locke (a) 72 73, Keegan Bradley (USA) 74 71, Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Tha) 74 71, Tom Lewis 75 70, Justin Rose 72 73, Tyrrell Hatton 74 71, Bryson DeChambeau (USA) 75 70, Gavin Green (Mal) 72 73, Yusaku Miyazato (Jpn) 71 74, Patrick Reed (USA) 75 70, Henrik Stenson (Swe) 70 75

The following players missed the half-way cut:

146 Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn) 75 71, Matt Wallace 74 72, Branden Grace (Rsa) 74 72, Martin Kaymer (Ger) 71 75, Tom Lehman (USA) 75 71, George Coetzee (Rsa) 75 71, Chez Reavie (USA) 69 77, Daniel Berger (USA) 73 73, Peter Uihlein (USA) 74 72, Justin Thomas (USA) 69 77, Sergio Garcia (Esp) 75 71, Fabrizio Zanotti (Pry) 72 74, Russell Knox 73 73

147 Charl Schwartzel (Rsa) 74 73, Oliver Wilson 75 72, Jorge Campillo (Esp) 72 75, Chesson Hadley (USA) 73 74, Brian Harman (USA) 71 76, Kelly Kraft (USA) 74 73, Andy Sullivan 71 76, Jon Rahm (Esp) 69 78, Shane Lowry 74 73, Jordan Smith 74 73, Matthew Fitzpatrick 72 75

148 Dustin Johnson (USA) 76 72, Nicolai Hojgaard (a) (Den) 72 76, Bubba Watson (USA) 75 73, Bronson Burgoon (USA) 74 74, Alexander Levy (Fra) 73 75

149 Marcus Armitage 80 69, Sang Hyun Park (Kor) 76 73, Scott Jamieson 75 74, Charles Howell III (USA) 75 74, Abraham Ancer (Mex) 71 78, Ryuko Tokimatsu (Jpn) 72 77, Mark Calcavecchia (USA) 73 76, Russell Henley (USA) 69 80, Ernie Els (Rsa) 73 76

150 Jason Kokrak (USA) 72 78, Thomas Curtis 82 68, Alexander Bjork (Swe) 72 78, Hideto Tanihara (Jpn) 75 75, Haraldur Magnus (Isr) 72 78, Jazz Janewattananond (Tha) 74 76, Emiliano Grillo (Arg) 76 74, Kodai Ichihara (Jpn) 78 72, Jimmy Walker (USA) 72 78, Jhonattan Vegas (Ven) 76 74, Dylan Frittelli (Rsa) 71 79, Anirban Lahiri (Ind) 76 74, Pádraig Harrington 76 74

151 Retief Goosen (Rsa) 74 77, Matt Jones (Aus) 75 76, Shota Akiyoshi (Jpn) 77 74, Michael Hendry (Nzl) 73 78, Todd Hamilton (USA) 75 76, Patton Kizzire (USA) 77 74, Ryan Armour (USA) 75 76, Sandy Lyle 75 76

152 Danthai Boonma (Tha) 78 74

153 Min Chel Choi (Kor) 79 74, Nicolas Colsaerts (Bel) 79 74, Grant Forrest 80 73, Jonas Blixt (Swe) 77 76

154 Yuxin Lin (a) (Chn) 80 74, Ian Poulter 73 81, Brady Schnell (USA) 79 75, Brandt Snedeker (USA) 76 78, Masanori Kobayashi (Jpn) 82 72

155 Jack Senior 79 76, Ash Turner 78 77

156 James Robinson 75 81

157 Andrew Landry (USA) 80 77

158 (a) Jovan Rebula (Rsa) 79 79, Jens Dantorp (Swe) 76 82

165 Darren Clarke 82 83

Gavin Green (Mal)
0925 Rhys Enoch, Patrick Reed (USA)
0935 Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Tha), Justin Rose
0945 Yusaku Miyazato (Jpn), Tyrrell Hatton
0955 Ross Fisher, Keegan Bradley (USA)
1005 Ryan Fox (Nzl), Jason Dufner (USA)
1015 Bryson DeChambeau (USA), Henrik Stenson (Swe)
1025 Tom Lewis, Sam Locke (a)
1035 Paul Casey, Chris Wood
1045 Bernhard Langer (Ger), Rafael Cabrera-Bello (Spa)
1100 Paul Dunne, Brett Rumford (Aus)
1110 Masahiro Kawamura (Jpn), Shubhankar Sharma (Ind)
1120 Cameron Smith (Aus), Brendan Steele (USA)
1130 Marc Leishman (Aus), Lee Westwood
1140 Byeong-Hun An (Kor), Kevin Na (USA)
1150 Julian Suri (USA), Adam Hadwin (Can)
1200 Gary Woodland (USA), Si Woo Kim (Kor)
1210 Yuta Ikeda (Jpn), Satoshi Kodaira (Jpn)
1220 Marcus Kinhult (Swe), Thomas Pieters (Bel)
1230 Beau Hossler (USA), Haotong Li (Chn)
1245 Cameron Davis (Aus), Sean Crocker (USA)
1255 Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa), Stewart Cink (USA)
1305 Phil Mickelson (USA), Austin Cook (USA)
1315 Shaun Norris (Rsa), Tiger Woods (USA)
1325 Lucas Herbert (Aus), Michael Kim (USA)
1335 Jason Day (Aus), Francesco Molinari (Ita)
1345 Sung Kang (Kor), Webb Simpson (USA)
1355 Patrick Cantlay (USA), Eddie Pepperell
1405 Matthew Southgate, Brooks Koepka (USA)
1415 Kyle Stanley (USA), Adam Scott (Aus)
1430 Charley Hoffman (USA), Alex Noren (Swe)
1440 Ryan Moore (USA), Brandon Stone (Rsa)
1450 Luke List (USA), Danny Willett
1500 Thorbjorn Olesen (Den), Rickie Fowler (USA)
1510 Jordan Spieth (USA), Kevin Chappell (USA)
1520 Zander Lombard (Rsa), Tony Finau (USA)
1530 Matt Kuchar (USA), Erik Van Rooyen (Rsa)
1540 Rory McIlroy, Xander Schauffele (USA)
1550 Pat Perez (USA), Tommy Fleetwood
1600 Kevin Kisner (USA), Zach Johnson (USA)

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