Rory McIlroy has shot his second straight six-under 66 at the British Open, giving him a commanding lead after two rounds.
Shaking off the second-round doldrums that have marred his year, McIlroy closed with three birdies in his final four holes Friday to push his 36-hole score to 12-under 132.
McIlroy made his first bogey of the tournament at the first hole, but that was his only major miscue.
He birdied seven of the next 17 holes to take a four-shot advantage over Dustin Johnson, who overnight had the best round of the tournament with a 65 for a 136 total.
Rickie Fowler, Sergio Garcia, Charl Schwartzel, Francesco Molinari and Ryan Moore are at 138. Tiger Woods barely made the cut after shooting a 77.
Woods, on the other hand, went tumbling off the leaderboard with a double-bogey at the first hole and a bogey at the second. Looks like that 15th major title will have to wait a little longer, which really shouldn't be surprising for someone playing for only the second time since back surgery.
Defending champion Phil Mickelson bounced back from a 74 on Thursday (local time) with a 70 that left him safe for the weekend. The world's top-ranked player, Adam Scott, rallied for a 73 with birdies on the final two holes, keeping him in the hunt for his second major title.
Moore birdied the last two holes for a four-under 68, the best round of those who had finished. Molinari shot 70.
On a day that was tougher for scoring, McIlroy was unlikely to match the bogey-free 66 that pushed him into the lead after the first round. Yet he didn't get flustered when he bogeyed No 1, even though that must have felt awfully familiar to him.
McIlroy has started a couple of tournaments with 63s and another with a 64, but wasn't able to win any of them. Strangely, he's had a serious case of the yips in the second round, putting up a cumulative score of 15-over par compared with 55 under for the opening round, and 39 under on the weekend.
In the second round at Hoylake, he was doing quite nicely. A two-putt birdie at the par-five fifth was followed by a pinpoint tee shot to about six feet at the par-three sixth, setting up another birdie. He took his score even lower with an exquisite iron shot at No 8, setting up a 10-foot putt.
Before making his third birdie of the front side, he had to deal with a different kind of birdie. A pheasant wandered onto the green as McIlroy was lining up his putt. He shooed it away with help from his caddie, both of them chuckling at the strange scene.
McIlroy added another birdie at the 10th and was poised to go even lower when he stood over a five-footer at No 11.
The putt slid by the cup, one of the few miscues for the 25-year-old on this day.
The wind was whipping through Royal Liverpool in the morning, but settled in the afternoon - benefiting many of the same players, McIlroy and Woods among them, who played in pristine conditions Thursday morning.
The expected rains held off, leaving Friday's (local time) round to be played in hazy, sticky weather.
Sergio Garcia struck the best shot of the day, holing a 150-yard shot from the edge of the rough for an eagle at the second. When the ball dropped into the cup, the Spaniard threw up his arms, whipping the crowd into a frenzy. Then he slapped hands with playing partners Rickie Fowler and Luke Donald.
Garcia, still seeking that first major title most thought he would have won long before now, was at five-under along with Jim Furyk, Louis Oosthuizen and George Coetzee.
Furyk shot 71, sending him to the weekend with a 139 total. At age 44, he might be the best shot at extending the streak of three straight Open winners in their 40s.
Coetzee managed a 69 on his 28th birthday, one of the few morning players to go low.
"This is definitely my favorite major," said Coetzee, a South African who this year won for the first time on the European Tour. "It's always going to be my birthday week. It's nice to play well, obviously, in a very prestigious event. And to have my birthday coincide with it is also nice."
Coetzee was actually tied for the lead at six-under after three straight birdies on the back side. He capped the run with little more than a tap-in at the par-three 15th, his tee shot curling up about two feet from the hole.
That's when he took a peek at the scoreboard, noticed his name above all others - and promptly bogeyed the next two holes.
"It's obvious I looked at it as soon as I was at the top," he said, smiling.
"But it was quite a good feeling to look at my name and be at the top of the leaderboard."
Mickelson got a much-needed boost with a chip-in for eagle at the fifth. He completed his round by rolling in a 15-foot birdie putt. He pumped his fist a couple of times and walked off with an even-par 144.
Scott was at 141, a decent number given he played much of his round in a howling wind.
"Today was much tougher out there," he said.
"All of a sudden there were holes where I was hitting six-iron from in the 140s (yards). That's when you know it's pretty windy."
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