Rory McIlroy will take a four-shot lead into the weekend at the Open Championship after putting his run of disappointing Friday rounds behind him. With an unfortunate habit of tarnishing strong opening rounds this year, the Northern Irishman shot a second straight 66 to make him a firm favorite to claim a third major title.
American Dustin Johnson is his closet challenger, having shot the lowest round of the week with a 65 to move to eight under. Compatriot Rickie Fowler is in a cluster of six players two shots further back that also includes current third favorite Sergio Garcia and two South African former major winners Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen. After starting the day just three shots adrift of McIlroy, Tiger Woods only made the cut by a single shot following a disappointing round of 77. Phil Mickelson shot a 70 to go into Saturday at level par.
The focus is on McIlroy, though, who took advantage of the less breezy afternoon conditions to end the so-called Freaky Fridays that have blighted his 2014, and, indeed, his previous appearances at the Open.
“In a way, it's nice to go out and shoot a good one today, so I don't have to be asked about it again,” he said afterward, according to ESPN. “I have an inner peace on the golf course. I'm very comfortable in this position. I'm very comfortable doing what I'm doing right now.”
His fine round came after a worrying start when he bogeyed the opening hole. But it was serene progress thereafter as he finished with seven birdies on his card. It is an ominous sign for his rivals, with McIlroy having pulled away from the field in similar fashion to win his previous majors at the 2011 U.S. Open and 2012 PGA Championship.
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Victory would make McIlroy only the third active player to have won at least three of the four majors, along with Mickelson and Woods -- part of an elite group of five to have won a career Grand Slam. On Saturday, McIlroy will go out in a group of three, as, for the first time in Open history, groups will begin from both the first and 10th hole in an effort to stay on track with heavy storms forecast.
While he will be among those teeing off, Woods has little prospect of adding to his 14 majors this week. After the positivity following a strong opening round to his first major since missing three months due to back surgery, Woods suffered a reality check in his comeback.
Current world No. 1 Adam Scott also endured a disappointing day after carding a one over to fall back to three under for the tournament. Part of a three-man group two shots better off, alongside former U.S. Open winner Jim Furyk, sits South African George Coetzee after a day he is unlikely to forget in a hurry. Coetzee went out in the rough morning conditions but temporarily had a share of the lead after three-straight birdies on the back nine. Two bogeys then followed to clip his wings, before he recovered to end with a birdie. Still, it wasn’t a bad way to celebrate his 28th birthday.
Leaderboard and Betting Odds (provided by Bovada.lv)
-12 Rory McIlroy (2/3)
-8 Dustin Johnson (6/1)
-6 Sergio Garcia (16/1)
-6 Rickie Fowler (20/1)
-6 Charl Schwartzel (28/1)
-6 Francesco Molinari (28/1)
-6 Louis Oosthuizen (28/1)
-6 Ryan Moore (28/1)
-5 Jim Furyk (40/1)
-5 George Coetzee (80/1)
-5 Marc Warren (100/1)
-4 Robert Karlsson (80/1)
-4 Jimmy Walker (80/1)
-4 Victor Dubuisson (100/1)
-3 Adam Scott (25/1)
-3 Thomas Bjorn (100/1)
-3 Marc Leishman (150/1)
-3 Edoarado Molinari (200/1)
-2 Justion Rose (50/1) PAR Phil Mickelson (150/1) +1 Tiger Woods (200/1)