The Open 2014 leaderboard: Rory McIlroy banishes Friday fears and leaves the rest desperate to catch up

Northern Irishman's fears were unfounded in Liverpool

Royal Liverpool

If we are going to link days of the week to lumpy labels, how about “Thunder Thursday” all over again, despite the deep intake of breath after Rory McIlroy’s bogey start. The birdies popped like corks here, releasing frenzied cheers over Hoylake and dispelling the folky froth about his Friday form.

We can only imagine what it must be like for a 25-year-old lad to imbibe the love on this scale, tens of thousands threading across Royal Liverpool’s gently baking acres, sending great “oohs” and “aahs” echoing down human chains, and all in his name. “Go Rory, Rory, Rory…”

US Open champion Martin Kaymer, who went round in level par in the morning gusts to close 13 strokes adrift, tweeted: “Now that is what I call wrong side of the draw.” Let’s see what Kaymer makes of the storm blowing our way that has forced upon the R&A a two-tee start for the first time to ensure the third round is concluded as scheduled.

Even if he had half a point, the weather did not account for McIlroy’s mastery of Royal Liverpool, which yielded a second successive 66. He walked off the 18th tee with a four-shot lead over Dustin Johnson, who posted the low round of the day, 65. This has been coming. Were it not for the fabled cluster of mad Fridays at a host of venues, McIlroy might already have had a season to rival 2012.

A bunch of fine golfers are chasing him down but none has the extra gear that he has when the zeitgeist is upon him. We salute George Coetzee for his marvellous 69, the best of the morning, giving him a five-under-par total and the early clubhouse lead. When the wind was cracking the flags first thing it looked for all the world it might see him in the final group on Saturday.   

 

Ryan Moore eclipsed Coetzee in the afternoon with a 68 to raise the bar to six under par. Moore was quickly joined by playing partner Francesco Molinari, Sergio Garcia, Ricky Fowler and South African major winners Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen in a share of third. But none of this had any impact on the man setting fire to a great golf course.

McIlroy revealed how incantations around key words at important moments kept the accumulation on track. As far as worrying about Friday, it never entered his mind. “I’ve got a couple of little words, trigger words I’m using this week,” he said. “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.”

George Coetzee posted an impressive 69 on day two at The Open George Coetzee posted an impressive 69 on day two at The Open

Maybe it was the charge that did not come from Adam Scott in the morning that eased McIlroy’s Friday fears. The great Australian needed a birdie-birdie finish for a 73 to make the weekend on three under par. “There were some ups and downs, but it was really, really important to finish with a couple of birdies and put me in good shape for the weekend, I think,” the Australian said.

With the wind gusting at upwards of 25mph the early starters had the worst of it, for want of a better phrase, and into the teeth of the beastly easterly marched the defending champion Phil Mickelson. Old Lefty detonates drama, responding to a bogey at the fourth with an eagle at the next, iced with a birdie at the sixth.

And then came the par-five 10th, where Mickelson went out of bounds with his tee shot and still made par. Of course there would be a birdie at the last for a 70 to give him a fighting chance this weekend, lest we forget that he won from five shots back on the final day at Muirfield.

McIlroy recovered his early dropped shot with a birdie at the fifth, set up by a drive measuring 375 yards and double digits on the Richter scale. It was a stroke that reduced the grown men around the tee box to giggling schoolboys. Mind you, it was past four in the afternoon and they were pickled in grog.

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He was two under to the turn and there was not a whiff of trouble after the adrenalin-pumped approach that had flown the first green. A birdie followed at the 10th and when he did take an agricultural detour into the pampas to the left of the 12th fairway, he hacked out with a wedge and watched his ball balloon on to the green, releasing gently towards the hole.

Even he smiled at that one. It was as well for the sake of the tournament that the putt did not drop. He was inches high, as he was at the previous hole. Another birdie eventually came at the par-three 15th to extend the advantage to four with two par-fives to come.

Perhaps his eyes were bigger than his belly at this stage. He found sand off the tee at the 16th, splashed out only to find a greenside trap with what looked an absolute beauty of a three-wood straight at the flag. Had he eked another yard out of it the ball might have caught the flat and escaped the aching curl into the bunker. No problem in this form. He escaped to four feet and popped in the putt for par.

Suitably reprieved, McIlroy striped his tee shot down the 17th, fired his approach to eight feet and calmly stroked the birdie putt home. Up ahead on the final green Tiger Woods was making a six-footer to stay in the tournament. How times change.

At least Woods progressed. Australia’s Bryden Macpherson improved his first-round score by 10 strokes and was still going home miserable. Mind you, he did start with a 90. Today’s 80 included his only birdie of the championship, at the par-five 10th.

The former Amateur champion began with five straight fives. Only one was for par. He signed off with a double-bogey seven. G’day, not.

Tee-off times: Third round

 

Two-tee start: Starting at hole 1

09.00 J Dufner (US), K Bradley (US), P Mickelson (US)

09.11 T Jaidee (Tha), G Woodland (US), DA Points (US)

09.22 Kristoffer Broberg (Swe), David Hearn (Can), Graeme McDowell

09.33 Branden Grace (Rsa), Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn), Byeong-Hun An (Kor)

09.44 Shane Lowry, Stephen Gallacher, Matteo Manassero (Ita)

09.55 David Howell, Justin Rose, Bill Haas (USA)

10.06 Edoardo Molinari (Ita), Thomas Bjorn (Den), Marc Leishman (Aus)

10.17 Adam Scott (Aus), Victor Dubuisson (Fra), Jimmy Walker (USA)

10.28 Robert Karlsson (Swe), Marc Warren, Jim Furyk (USA)

10.39 Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa), George Coetzee (Rsa), Charl Schwartzel (Rsa)

10.50 Sergio Garcia (Spa), Rickie Fowler (USA), Ryan Moore (USA)

11.01 Dustin Johnson (USA), Francesco Molinari (Ita), Rory McIlroy

Starting at hole 10

09.00 Chris Rodgers, Gregory Bourdy (Fra), Ben Martin (USA)

09.11 Darren Clarke, Matt Kuchar (USA), Hunter Mahan (USA)

09.22 Kevin Stadler (USA), Chris Kirk (USA), Martin Kaymer (Ger)

09.33 Billy Hurley III (USA), John Senden (Aus), Chris Wood

09.44 Matthew Jones (Aus), Brooks Koepka (USA), Paul Casey

09.55 Henrik Stenson (Swe), Angel Cabrera (Arg), Ryan Palmer (USA)

10.06 James Mcleary, Brian Harman (USA), Charley Hoffman (USA)

10.17 Kevin Streelman (USA), Brendon Todd (USA), Brandt Snedeker (USA)

10.28 Zach Johnson (USA), Jason Day (Aus), Kevin Na (USA)

10.39 Koumei Oda (Jpn), Thorbjorn Olesen (Den), Stewart Cink (USA)

10.50 Tom Watson (USA), Luke Donald, Matthew Every (USA)

11.01 Tiger Woods (USA), Jordan Spieth (USA), Rhein Gibson (Aus)

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