Rory McIlroy will take a commanding lead into the third round of the 143rd Open Championship at Royal Liverpool.
On a day dominated by the late starters, the 25 year-old from Northern Ireland brought his run of poor second round performances to an abrupt halt with a second successive six under par 66 which gave him a four shot lead over America’s Dustin Johnson.
Johnson fired a best-of-the-week seven under par 65 to move from 33rd into second place while Francesco Molinari, Ryan Moore, Rickie Fowler, Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen and Sergio Garcia go into the weekend in a tie for third place on six under one shot ahead of Jim Furyk, George Coetzee and Marc Warren.
McIlroy started the day by dropping a shot at the first hole but any thoughts he might fall down the leaderboard like he had done at the Masters, the Players Championship, the Memorial and the Scottish Open were dispelled with a run of four birdies in six holes from the fifth. He also gained further shots at the 15th and 17th before finishing in style with another birdie in front of the packed grandstands at the 18th.
“It was another solid round of golf,” said the two-time Major Champion. “Going out, I just wanted to stick to my game plan, stick to doing what I do well, which is to take advantage of the par 5s, maybe take advantage of some of the holes that are downwind.
“That was all I was thinking about and I went out there and executed the game plan perfectly. All I need is two more of those again.”
Johnson had opened with a one under par 71 but completely transformed his fortunes with a 65 that gives him a great chance of going one better than in 2011 when he finished tied second behind Darren Clarke at Royal St George’s
The 30 year-old from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, opened his round with a birdie at the first and added others at the third and the fith to race to the turn in 32. He also gained shots to par at the 532-yard par-5 10th and the 391-yard par-4 11th to move to five under for the day and then closed out a flawless round with two more birdies on the last two holes.
It was a different story for Tiger Woods who started the Championship with a three under par 69 but hit his tee shot out of bounds on the 17th and went up the last needing a birdie to avoid missing consecutive cuts for the first time in his professional career.
The former World No 1 accomplished that when he chipped over a bunker and then holed out from six feet, but he will need a low third round if he is to have any chance of challenging the leaders come Sunday afternoon.
“I didn’t hit the driver very good today,” said Wood. “I also got off to a terrible start again. I had some opportunities to make a few birdies to get back to even for the day but did not make anything.
“At least making the cut gives me a chance,” he added. “I’ve got two rounds to go so hopefully I can do something like Paul (Lawrie) did in ’99. He made up ten in one day. Hopefully I can play well on the weekend and at least give myself a shot at it going into the back nine on Sunday.
The cut fell at two over par 146 and it meant that for the first time since 2003 no competitor will win the Silver Medal awarded to the leading amateur who plays all four rounds.
The player who came nearest to reaching the weekend was English international Ashley Chesters who opened with a fine two under par 70 but then missed out by a single shot after carding a second round 77.
“It’s very disappointing to miss out by such a small margin but at least I can take a lot of positives from the fact that I managed to bounce back from a bad start to shoot to birdies over the last three holes.
“It has been a great experience,” he added. “I have had a great time and learned a lot which I hope will help me in the future.
This year’s field contained four amateurs and both Ireland’s Paul Dunne and Cheng-Tsung Pan from Taiwan also came close after completing two rounds on four over par 148 just two shots outside the qualification mark.
Scotland’s Bradley Neil carded a four over par 76 to improve on his opening 79 by three shots and finish on 11 over par 155.
The four amateurs will be joined on the sidelines by several leading professionals.
Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter joined Chester among the casualties on 157 and Boo Weekley (148), Miguel Angel Jimenez (148), Bubba Watson (148), Ernie Els (152), David Duval (152), Padraig Harrington (152), Paul Lawrie (154) and Sandy Lyle (166) will also take no further part over the weekend.
One veteran performer who did make it was 64 year-old 5-time champion, Tom Watson, who carded his second successive 73 to make it through on two over par 146.
“I started off pretty good today but then I hit some lousy shots in the middle of the round,” he said. “That put a bit of heat on me to make the cut so it was pleasing to do so well coming down the stretch.
“I enjoyed it out there”, he added. I came over here with the purpose of playing my best golf and making the weekend. Let’s see what happens over the next two days. Maybe the old guy can get it rolling a bit.