HOYLAKE, England – Will Rory McIlroy have another Freaky Friday?
McIlroy is in familiar territory at the top of the leaderboard Thursday. Where he’ll be Friday evening is anybody’s guess.
Freaky Fridays have developed into a nasty habit for the former World No. 1.
McIlroy’s 6-under-par 66 gave him an early one-shot lead over Matteo Manassero. With a posse of players 4 under par, including Sergio Garcia, Brooks Koepka, Jim Furyk, Shane Lowry, the Molinari brothers and World No. 1 Adam Scott.
McIlroy went into a meltdown the last time he led the Open Championship after the first round. He opened with a 7-under-par 63 at St. Andrews in 2010. He blew up, literally, with an 80 that Friday as strong winds buffeted the Old Course. He eventually finished third that year.
There were no such winds on day one of the 143rd Open Championship, just gentle zephyrs that made Royal Liverpool as timid as a pussycat.
“We had perfect scoring conditions out there this morning,” McIlroy said. “There wasn’t much wind early on. The wind started to pick up a little bit on the back nine, but there was plenty of opportunities to make birdies.”
Rory did just that, making six birdies and no bogeys to take the lead on day one for the second time in his Open career. As for day two, Rory has a puzzle to solve.
McIlroy’s second-round scores this year average more than four shots worse than his opening rounds. The two-time major winner has averaged 67.93 for round one in his 14 tournaments leading up the Open Championship. He is averaging 72.21 in round two.
Last week he began the Scottish Open with a 64, then backed it up with a 78. He’s only bettered his opening score on three occasions this season. The problem? Expectation.
“Whenever I go out to play on Thursdays, there’s not many expectations,” McIlroy said. “When you go back out on Friday after a good score, you know what you can do on the golf course. So you’re going out with some expectations compared to Thursday when you’re going out with not many. I think I’ve just got to approach it like that.”
It’s probably safe to say Manassero didn’t have the same high expectations as McIlroy when the week began. His season hasn’t added up to much so far.
The 21-year-old has four European Tour wins under his belt, including last year’s BMW PGA Championship. However, he’s started slowly this year. He had missed five of 18 cuts leading up to Hoylake.
Until last week’s Scottish Open, the Italian had only recorded two top 10s. He turned his season around in the French Open, even though he finished joint 48th.
“France is a really demanding golf course, and I played some really nice rounds on that golf course,” Manassero said. “For me it was a nice sign of a good game, and that I could be confident of my game and trust it.”
He continued that form into last week’s Scottish Open at Royal Aberdeen with a fourth place finish.
“It was the best preparation I could have had,” he said. “We had strong wind, little wind, calm wind the last day. We had different directions of wind and the course was firm. It was real linksy, so I just put myself in a very links frame of mind.”
His presence on the leaderboard with Francesco and Edoardo Molinari will have Italians dreaming of a breakthrough on the major front. Costantino Rocca has come closest to major glory, losing a playoff to John Daly in the 1995 Open Championship at St. Andrews.
Garcia knows all about getting close to major-championship glory. He has seven top-10 finishes in the game’s oldest major, including runner-up to Padraig Harrington in 2007. He also finished fifth here in 2006 when he played in the last two-ball with winner Tiger Woods.
He can either take that as positive or look at it as scar tissue that has never really healed. He’s trying for the latter.
“I think that with the experiences you have, you try to kind of ease up a little bit,” he said. “At the end of the day, I realize that I’m out there trying to do my best.
“It would be nice to put myself in a position to have a solid chance on Sunday, like I did a couple of times, like I did in 2006. It’s only the first day, so we’re going to go a little step-by-step and hopefully keep shooting good scores.”
Sounds like McIlroy and Garcia have the same game plan.
Who knows what tomorrow will bring, especially for McIlroy. He’s got to avoid another Freaky Friday.