HOYLAKE, England – Rory McIlroy has found inner peace. He’s in the zone and in control of the 143rd Open Championship.
There was no Freaky Friday for the two-time major winner at Royal Liverpool, just another 6-under 66 to move to 12 under, four shots in front of Dustin Johnson. He’s just 36 holes from the third leg of the Grand Slam to add to his 2011 U.S. Open and 2012 PGA Championship wins.
Francesco Molinari, Ryan Moore, Rickie Fowler, Sergio Garcia, Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen are tied for third at 6 under.
“I feel like I have an inner peace on the course,” McIlroy said. “I’m very comfortable in this position. It’s a combination of confidence, being mentally aware of what I’m doing and controlling my ball.”
That spells bad news for the rest of the field.
McIlroy has had a hard time backing up a good round with another one this season. Last week in the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open at Royal Aberdeen, he opened with a 64 and followed it with a 78. Ditto at the Memorial, when he began with a 63 and responded with a 78.
Coming into Hoylake, he was more than four shots worse for second-round than first-round scores. Now he’s four shots ahead of the field and will be hard to catch, especially with weather forecasts seemingly bringing death and destruction to the Wirral coastline for Round 3.
The predicted weather is so bad the R&A has taken the unprecedented step of instituting a two-tee start for the third round, with competitors going out in three balls. That could play straight into McIlroy’s hands.
“I feel like I’m ready for whatever conditions come because I’ve practiced the last few weeks in links-type conditions,” he said. “In a way, having a four-shot lead isn’t a bad thing, because it makes it tougher for the guys to catch you.”
That’s Fowler’s take.
“When his driver is on, he’s almost unstoppable,” Fowler said. “I don’t think he has a whole lot of weaknesses.
“He’s not scared to go and keep going. So if he’s playing the way he is right now and keeps playing through the weekend, he’s going to be tough to catch.”
Johnson shot the low round of the tournament so far, a bogey-free 5-under 65 that gives him a chance to atone for the 2011 Open Championship at Royal St. George’s. Johnson had a chance to win until he hit his second shot out of bounds at the par-5 14th hole. He finished second, three shots behind Darren Clarke.
“I am always excited to be in the mix,” Johnson said. “I had a lot of fun out there and tried to stay relaxed. I am swinging really well and felt comfortable over the golf ball. I am looking forward to it. I’m glad I’m in the last group and playing with Rory, but I’ve got to go out and play my game. I can’t worry about what he is doing. I’ll just go out there and try to shoot a good number.”
McIlroy and Johnson benefitted from the luck of the draw, which plays a huge part in who wins the Open Championship.
Strong winds greeted the early starters in Round 2, making scoring tough for the morning starters.
“It was difficult out there today,” said Justin Rose, who teed off at 9:26 a.m. “Even on the downwind holes, it was hard to get the ball close to the hole.”
Playing companion Adam Scott agreed.
“Today was much tougher,” Scott said. “Just the slight direction change and gusts. All of a sudden there were holes where I was hitting 6-iron from the 140s (yards).”
The wind dropped by the time McIlroy teed off at 2:27 p.m. and Johnson went in the next group at 2:38 p.m. All morning, the three par 5s on the back nine played into the wind. By the afternoon, all were reachable. McIlroy and Johnson birdied two of the three.
Zen-like inner peace helped McIlroy. He claims to be reciting a two-word mantra as he goes around the golf course.
“I’ve got a couple of little words, trigger words, that I’m using this week,” he revealed. “I sort of keep telling myself in my head when I’m on my way around the golf course, when I’m just about to hit it, go into a shot.
“People call it ‘the zone.’ It’s just a state of mind where you think clearly. Everything seems to be on the right track.”
Those two words?
He won’t tell, but “my destiny” wouldn’t be wide of the mark. The chosen one is on track to win a tournament everyone believes is rightfully his.