Rory in pole position but bogey man lurks (T. Woods)

Rory in pole position but bogey man lurks (T. Woods)

Rory McIlroy. Picture Fran Caffrey,

Rory McIlroy might harbour some fears that the bogey man could get him again today after he hit route 66 to grab the lead in The Open at sun-splashed Royal Liverpool.

The Holywood hotshot is still clearly concerned about his freaky Friday hoodoo — his habit of following a great first round with a poor second. It’s cost him dear no fewer than six times this year, but he might need to watch out for the real bogey man, Tiger Woods, for the first time in a major.

Back after surgery on his spine, the former world No 1 and 14-time major champion came back from a horrific, bogey-bogey start in his first major start for 11 months to post a three under 69.

And as the winner of the last Open held at Hoylake in 2006, Woods is surely a massive threat to McIlroy’s bid for his first Claret Jug.

If he plays as well for the next four days as he did on Thursday, McIlroy might well prove untouchable. But the Ulsterman was again answering questions about his worrying habit of following brilliant Thursdays with poor Fridays, despite firing six birdies in a controlled exhibition of ball-striking.

He could have been several shots better had he not missed two holdable birdie putts and failed to pick up a shot at the par-five 18th.

But he was still delighted with his start, and rightly so.

“Any time you shoot 66 at the Open Championship, you're going to be pleased,” McIlroy said. “We had perfect scoring conditions out there this morning. 

“There wasn't much wind early on and there were plenty of opportunities to make birdies and I was able to take a few of them.

"It's another great start and, yeah, looking forward to getting back out there tomorrow."

He might not be looking forward to it that much after recording seven nightmares this season when he’s shot 40 or more for nine holes.

With six of those seven disasters coming on Friday — the most recent of them just last week when he followed an opening 64 in the Scottish Open with a horrific 78 — he’s got a major hurdle to cross today and admitted as much.

"Whenever I go out and play on Thursdays there're not really many expectations," said McIlroy, who led after a major championship record equalling 63 at St Andrews in 2010 only to add an abysmal 80 in high winds on Friday.

"You're going out there and you're trying to find a rhythm and you're just trying to play your way into the round.

"When you go back out on Friday after a good score you know what you can do, so you're going out with some expectations compared to Thursday.

“I think I've just got to approach it like that, start off trying to hit solid shots the first few holes and play my way into the round, just like I did today."

McIlroy confessed that he loved the atmosphere as massive crowds packed the links.

“I mentioned to my caddie JP walking up the third fairway, all three of us in the group had hit good shots in. And I turned around and said, ‘There's nothing like the atmosphere of an Open Championship.’ 

“It is different. The crowds are so enthusiastic and knowledgeable, it's just a pleasure to play in front of them.”

Bad weather is forecast for today but McIlroy may just get the best of it as he goes out in the afternoon.

And he insists he has no fears for what might happen in high winds after getting some valuable practice in the Scottish Open last week.

His game was certainly impressive and whole he lipped out from close range at the first he hit a towering, 190-yard six iron to six inches at the second to move into the red.

A missed chance from five feet at the third didn’t faze him and he then birdied the par-five fifth and the short sixth to take the lead.

Further birdies at the 10th, where he chipped dead, and 12th, where he holed his longest putt of the day from 12 feet, left him in the clear again.

A lucky bounce out of the deep rough at the 14th was the kind of break an Open champion needs and after a brilliant up and down from sand at the 16th moved him to six under, he wasn’t too disappointed not to repeat the trick at the par-five 18th.

“Today was just a real solid round of golf,” said McIlroy of a round that brought back memories of his 63 at St Andrews in 2010. 

“I hit it into the spots I needed to. Took my pars on the tougher holes. Made three birdies out of the four on the par 5s, and just picked a couple more up when I could.

“The 63 at St. Andrews was a better round of golf, but there were similarities in there.”

As for his Friday hoodoo, he said: “There's nothing really to it. It's just about maybe having higher expectations going out on a Friday because you shot a low round, and just trying to put those expectations aside and just try and take it one hole at a time.

“I know if I do stick to that game plan and I execute it the right way, the low numbers are there for me to shoot.”

It’s the first time McIlroy has taken the lead in a major since he won the US PGA at Kiawah Island nearly two years ago.

He won by eight that time, shooting a 75 in high winds on Friday when it could have been 80.