Thoroughbred McIlroy on the bridle
Rory McIlroy speaks to the media after his second round 69 at Carnoustie

Rory McIlroy speaks to the media after his second round 69 at Carnoustie

Golf has little connection with the sport of kings but if there's such as a thing as horses for courses then Rory McIlroy is well and truly off and running at The Open.

Rain has featured in all four of the Co Down man's major wins and he's now lurking ominously on four-under-par, just two shots behind leaders Zach Johnson and Kevin Kisner after shooting an impressive 69 from the tougher side of the draw for the second day in a row.

He admitted yesterday that he learned a harsh lesson at the Masters in April, where he felt he was too cagey and conservative and failed to do himself justice in the final group alongside Patrick Reed, posting an anaemic 74 that day to finish six adrift.

"Worrying too much about the result, not focusing as much on the process," McIlroy said of the lessons learnt that Sunday.

"Sunday at Augusta was a big learning curve again for me because even if I hadn't won the tournament, had gone down swinging and aggressive and committing to every shot, I would have walked away a lot happier.

“So I'm committed to making sure, even if I don't play my best golf and don't shoot the scores I want, I'm going to go down swinging and go down giving it my best."

No doubt a Greek mother would be proud of McIlroy's "Come back with your shield - or on it" attitude. 

Whether he chooses wisely when to attack and makes more birdies than bogeys over the weekend on an always dangerous Carnoustie remains to be seen. 

But with the rain taking the sting out of the course, he’s undoubtedly got the firepower to inflict some damage.

"The fairways definitely didn't have as much fire in them," he said of a rain-soaked morning round in which he hit the driver six times but was also forced to play conservatively because he could not carry the ball 320 yards through the air.

"I was surprised there was a couple of holes where I thought I'd hit shots that were going to end up in a fairway bunker or close to it, and they were a good bit short of that.

"So I think the fire has been taken a little bit out of the fairways and the greens as well, but the greens have been sort of receptive all week."

With six strokes covering the top 39 players on the leaderboard, today will be a mega-moving day with Carnoustie denuded of rough and the fiery fairways anesthetised by several hours of steady rainfall.

Renowned tactician Johnson, the 2015 champion, shot 67 and the precise Kisner a 71 to lead by a shot on six-under from England's Tommy Fleetwood, who fired an immaculate, six-under 65.

As it ease off later and the sun emerged, Arizona’s Pat Perez (42) shot 68 and the impressive Californian Xander Schauffele (24) a 66 to share third with Fleetwood on five-under.

The leaderboard is a menagerie of styles with big hitters like McIlroy, Tony Finau, Zander Lombard and South African Erik van Rooyen all tied for sixth with a tactical player like Matt Kuchar, who was singled by Pádraig Harrington earlier in the week as the type of tactician who could defy the bombers.

It was no surprise to see afternoon starters Kevin Chappell, Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler make hay and move to within three of the lead on three-under.

But there were also disasters with Spain's Jon Rahm moving into the top six after a birdie-bogey-birdie start only to self-implode with six dropped shots in three holes from the seventh, carding a 78 to miss the cut. 

McIlroy’s game was hugely impressive and while he made two bogeys, his haul of four birdies owed much to his decisive putting and precision iron play as his driving.

"I think he knows what he’s doing,” Harrington said when asked if he had any advice for McIlroy on tackling Carnoustie in an Open.  

"From the wrong side of the draw it looks very positive. The two days he’s had, you’d say they were tough enough conditions and certainly it looks like the tougher side of the draw. To keep yourself in contention, he’s got to be feeling good.”

Of the five Irishmen in the field, only Paul Dunne managed to join McIlroy for the weekend, finishing with three gutsy pars for a 73 to make the three-over cut with a shot to spare.

Shane Lowry’s decision to leave his caddie on he sidelines was a shock in the middle of a championship and a 73 was no surprise as he missed the three over cut by two shots. 

"It was just stress that wasn’t necessary really," Dunne sighed. "I can still climb up over the weekend but it was disappointing really. 

"I was in a great position to make a good run over the weekend and just didn’t do it. To have a chance now, I need two outstanding weekend rounds."

Harrington's return to the scene of his 2007 breakthrough was not a happy one and at 46, the course simply wore him down.

"Yesterday afternoon's finish really scuppered me," said Harrington, who played his last four holes in three-over for the second day running, adding a 74 to his opening 76 to finish on eight-over.

"I think I definitely seemed to run out of steam both days. Maybe I just made it a bit difficult for myself for the first 14 holes, even if I was scoring okay, it was far from stress-free, let's put it like that.

"Maybe the course wore we down, that's what I mean.  It's tough when you're not creating too many chances, and even if you're getting up and down for pars, it is wearing. So it got the better of me at the end."

As for Darren Clarke, the 2011 champion shot an 83 — his worst round in 27 appearances — to finish last in the field on 23-over.

The Dungannon ace is now counting down to his PGA Tour Champions debut in the Boeing Classic next month as he turns 50 on August 14 and looking forward to next year’s Open at Royal Portrush, his adopted home.