HOYLAKE, England — That takes care of the Friday Flop nonsense for Rory McIlroy. That also ought to take care of the 143rd British Open.
Was it a jinx? A curse? A bad swing that turned into a horrible situation? A leprechaun’s mistake?
Whatever, the kid—well, he is 25 now, but we still think of him as a kid—from Northern Ireland kept stumbling during the second round of tournaments.
He shot 71 the first day of the Masters, 77 the next. He began the Memorial with a 63, then ballooned to a 78. Even last week, on a links course, like the ones on which The Open is played, the Royal Aberdeen, he began the Scottish Open with a 64, then soared to 78.
“It’s in my head a little bit,” he said on Thursday.
No longer. Now, he’s in the head of everybody else who made the cut. He’s also in the lead, having shot a second straight six-under-par 66 for a 12-under 132.
Rory isn’t the new Tiger Woods, because there isn’t going to be a new Tiger Woods. But McIlroy is the next best thing, someone who seemingly knocks the ball halfway from Hoylake to the Beatles museum on the other side of the River Mersey.
McIlroy is someone who grabs an opportunity and clutches it for dear life. He's someone who creates a lot of excitement, which is what golf—a sport that at times seems lifeless—very much needs.
It’s just like media to dwell on the negative, so instead of asking McIlroy on Thursday how he shot 66, we asked him how he might collapse the next day. One British writer even used the term “Freaky Friday.”
There are athletes who would have stomped away, but to his credit, McIlroy agreed his play during some of the second rounds was horrible. But that didn’t necessarily mean the one in this Open at Royal Liverpool would be. And it wasn’t.
“It was just another solid round of golf,” he said without a sniff of arrogance.
None of this, What do you know about the game? Go back to your laptop.
A solid round that allowed him to exhale.
“It’s nice to go out and shoot a good one today,” he said, “so I don’t have to be asked about it again ... until I might shoot a good score at Akron (the Bridgestone Invitational) and then people are asking me on Thursday afternoon.”
The young star has a sense of humor as well as perspective.
“It’s understandable. My second rounds have been terrible. Hopefully this puts it to bed.”
The question is whether he’s put this Open to bed. A four-stroke lead is a comfortable padding, and then again it’s very slim, two birdies and two bogies. But when McIlroy gets into full flight, as he has the past few days, well, he's capable of running away with a major like he did in the 2011 U.S. Open. He didn’t have a bad Friday then.
Or a bad Thursday, Saturday or Sunday.
Like Tiger, or Phil Mickelson, or Jack Nicklaus in his prime, McIlroy doesn’t hold back. He goes for the pin, for more birdies. “Once I got to seven (under), I felt like, 'OK, this time I feel good. I can get to eight. To nine, 10, 11, 12.'”
Woods barely made the cut at Royal Liverpool, where he won The Open in 2006. He had to birdie the last hole on Friday to see the weekend. But he still had a lot of kind words for McIlroy.
“It’s not a surprise,” Woods said about McIlroy. "He’s done this before.
”He’s won both his majors (the 2011 U.S. Open, the 2012 PGA Championship) by I think eight, I believe," Woods said. "Once he gets it going he can make a lot of birdies, and he plays aggressively, And when he’s going, he can get it going pretty good.”
He got it going during the second round of the British Open.
“I don’t know how to describe it,” McIlroy said. “It’s a way I feel, just like I have an inner peace.”
When McIlroy prepared to putt at the eighth green, a pheasant sped across. A bird. A sign? Indeed, moments later a birdie.
“I haven’t run into that before on the golf course,” he said. “I might have had a swan or duck or geese or something, but never a pheasant. But it was nice. It didn’t put me off.
“I feel very comfortable doing what I’m doing right now. It’s hard to describe. I think it comes to down to if you’re confident with your game and you’re in control of your ball out there, it makes things easier.”
The Friday Flop turned into the Friday Flash.
Art Spander, winner of the 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award in Journalism from the PGA of America, has covered over 150 major golf championships. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.