McIlroy back in the kill zone - four clear and counting

McIlroy back in the kill zone - four clear and counting

Rory McIlroy is in the zone again. Picture Eoin Clarke,

Rory McIlroy used a personal, two-word mantra to blow "Freaky Friday” out of the water with a second successive 66 to grab control of The Open. He'll tell us what those words are they are if he wins tomorrow but for now all we can do is enjoy a player who is back to his free-flowing, feral best, going for the kill with a ferocity not seen since he won his two previous majors by eight shot margins.

On a day when Tiger Woods had to hole a six foot putt for his lone birdie of the day at the 18th for a 77 to make the two over cut on the mark, 25-year old McIlroy takes a four-shot lead over big-hitting Dustin Johnson into today’s third round and it would be no surprise if wins by a huge margin again this time.

While a poor weather forecast has been forced the R&A to move to an early, two-tee start in three balls for the first time in 143 Open Championships staged since 1860, McIlroy is ready to take on the end of world if necessary and rack up the third leg of the career grand slam by the age of 25, a feat only achieved by Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods in the last 80 years.

"It looks very good for him right now," Pádraig Harrington said as he watched on a monitor as McIlroy converted for birdie on the 18th despite finding trouble off the tee. "He doesn't have to make birdies the conventional way either."

Describing how it feels to be in the zone, McIlroy said: “I have an inner peace on the golf course. I just feel very comfortable. I'm very comfortable in this position.

“I'm very comfortable doing what I'm doing right now. It's hard to describe. I wish I could get into it more often. If I'm able to do it a few times a year, that's nice. I think it's a combination of confidence.

"It's just being mentally strong, mentally aware of everything. But I think it all comes down to if you're confident with your game and you're in control of your ball out there, it makes things a lot easier.

“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.”

Asked what his magic words were, he said: “I'll tell you on Sunday, hopefully.”

As he left Tiger Woods trailing by 13 shots, Friday blues didn’t cross McIlroy's mind for an instant as he followed a clumsy bogey at the first with seven super birdies in another wonderful display in what was admittedly the very best of the weather.

On his Friday hoodoo, which faded from memory as quickly as the winds that caused the morning starters so much grief, Rory said: “I didn't have that in my head at all.  

"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 fives and some of the other holes that are downwind.

“That's all I was thinking about and I went out there and executed the game plan the way I wanted to. So just another really solid round of golf. And I'll need two more of those again.

“As I said yesterday you try and enjoy every minute of it, even if sometimes it feels like a bit of a grind and you're working extremely hard to keep it together or try and make some more birdies or whatever it is. 

“But the atmosphere out there is incredible. It makes it easier when you are shooting 66s and you are in the lead.

“I've been in this position before in major championships. I haven't been in this position in The Open Championship.

“But I'm just really looking forward to the weekend and hopefully continuing the strong play that you've seen so far.”

Feeling bulletproof after well and truly putting his recent poor Friday form behind him with another ball-striking exhibition, he is not worried about getting blown off course today despite a severe weather forecast that foresees heavy rain and possible thunderstorms.

He said: “I feel like I'm ready for whatever conditions come because I've practiced the last few weeks in links-type conditions.

“I've practiced the shots that I might need in windy conditions or wet conditions or whatever it is.

"And in a way having that four-shot lead isn't a bad thing, because it makes it tougher for the guys to catch you.

“Whatever the weather is tomorrow I won't mind and just try and play another solid round of golf.”

McIlroy overshot the first from the light rough and bogeyed but soon hit the birdie trail with back to back birdies at the fifth and sixth settling him down.

He then hit a great lag putt dead from well short of the seventh to save par and holed a 10 footer for birdie at the eighth to lead by two from Sergio Garcia on eight under.

After getting up and down brilliantly from heavy rough for birdie at the par-five 10th, he just missed for birdie at the 12th but holed from 10 feet at the par-three 15th to get to nine under.

He saved his par five at the 16th after finding two bunkers, he hit a massive, 396-yard drive at the 17th to set up birdie number six before getting up down at the last from 30 yards for yet another birdie.

Graeme McDowell battled to a great 69 to make the cut with ease on one under, leaving him tied for 23rd with Shane Lowry.

G-Mac said: “It was a better day today. I said yesterday that ball flight control had to improve and it did, I hit the ball much, much better.

"Yes we got the better half of the draw, no doubt about that, it was more benign and we played in really good conditions in the afternoon but the greens became crusty in places.”

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.
— Graeme McDowell

Like Darren Clarke, who shot a second successive 72 to make the cut on level par, McDowell reckons McIlroy will be tough to catch.

"Two 66s from Rory is a bit special, but he is just that - he is a bit special,” McDowell said. "So he's going to be tough to catch this weekend if he keeps that up, I'm sure.”

On the scrutiny McIlroy has suffered for his Friday peformances, McDowell said: “It's always tough to back up good first rounds and he's certainly put any demons that might have been there to bed.

"You certainly run out of superlatives when you're describing the kid's game, no-one will be surprised if he adds the third leg of the Grand Slam this weekend.”

Refusing to write himself off, McDowell added: “Anything can happen. I came from eight back a couple of weeks ago, this is a world class field at The Open Championship so I'm just going to try and control my ball and see what happens.”