At The 147th Open at Carnoustie, McIlroy is nicely placed to kick on over the weekend. On four under par after two rounds of 69, the Northern Irishman went to lunch just two strokes behind Zach Johnson, the early clubhouse leader, and knowing that victory could be there for the taking.
McIlroy, who let slip a chance to win the Masters this year when in contention in the final round, is convinced he has become too tentative in the big events. So now he has a game plan.
“One of my main thoughts is just to let it go,” he said. “Just go out there and give it my all. I'd rather fail by trying 100 per cent than by holding back and not giving myself the opportunity to do well.”
He could certainly draw inspiration from that victory at Hoylake four years ago. That week he seemed untouchable, a young genius who made everything look so simple: leader after round one; leader after round two; leader after round three; Champion Golfer of the Year after round four.
Since then a crop of young Americans has come to the fore – the four Majors are presently in the hands of Jordan Spieth (The Open), Patrick Reed (the Masters), Bruce Koepka (US Open) and Justin Thomas (US PGA Championship) – and McIlroy is determined to get in among them.
With Carnoustie playing hard and fast, players have talked about the two ways of playing it. They can be cautious, taking mainly irons off the tee to take the bunkers out of play; or they can be aggressive, sacrificing accuracy for distance and trusting to luck.
If McIlroy is indeed going to play with abandon, he disguised it well in his second round today. There was no sign of the impetuosity of youth, but a solid, professional performance in chilly, wet conditions that did not lend themselves to all-out attack. As impressive as it is to see him in full flow, it is equally impressive to see him accepting the conditions and playing accordingly.
McIlroy’s first birdie of the day came at the 7th. An iron off the tee was followed by a towering approach shot to around 10 feet and a smooth putt into the centre of the hole. He reached the turn in 35 and looked in complete control of his game.
His second birdie came at the 10th, one of just six holes where he used a driver. Watching him stride down the middle of fairway with real purpose gave a glimpse of the “Rory bounce”, that Tigger-like walk that says all is well with the world.
And so it is when a putt from 15ft rolls unerringly towards the hole and drops below ground. Most refreshing about the 29-year-old four-time major champion is that he is very much his own man. He makes his own decisions on the course, reads all his own putts, and is refreshingly quick.
He also happens to have the most beautiful swing in the game. A bogey at the 12th, when he took three putts to get down from around 80 feet was met with an irritated swish of the club, but he immediately got the shot back with a birdie from nine feet at the next.
He added another at the 14th after finding a bunker with his first shot and light rough with his second, before bumping the ball to within nine feet of the hole and rolling in the putt to move to five under par. As he looked towards the leaderboard, McIlroy saw that his name was at the top for the first time, alongside Kevin Kisner, the overnight leader, who had yet to tee off.
A bogey at the 15th and three pars to finish was a little disappointing, but he was right to be satisfied with a good day’s work.
“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 I'm going to go down giving it my best. I just need to get back in that mindset.”