Hoylake leaderboard wary of Rory McIlroy’s front-running quality

Rory McIlroy pictured during Friday's second round at Hoylake
Rory McIlroy pictured during Friday's second round at Hoylake

The chasing pack hunting down Open Championship leader Rory McIlroy are all wary of what the Northern Irishman can do as the front-runner.

McIlroy has won each of his two previous majors, the 2011 US Open and 2012 US PGA, by eight strokes and while a four-shot advantage may not seem a hugely significant cushion his rivals are wary of what is still to come.

American Dustin Johnson shot the round of the week so far with a 65 to lead the chase on eight under and will be paired with the leader in Saturday’s final group.

He is all too aware of what can happen in a major when the pressure is ramped up after conceding a three-stroke final-round lead to lose the 2010 US Open and missing a play-off for the US PGA a couple of months later after incurring a two-shot penalty for grounding his club in a bunker.

“It is fine. I’m glad I’m in the last group and playing with Rory,” he said.

“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.”

Fellow American Rickie Fowler, who first encountered McIlroy as an amateur at the 2007 Walker Cup in County Down, is a further two shots back after a 69 but believes the Northern Irishman has become a trailblazer for their generation.

“It was definitely impressive at the Walker Cup. I know he was kind of their go-to guy as being the star and I feel like he’s done definitely a really good job of living up to the expectations and playing well,” said the American, five months older than McIlroy but still chasing his first major while his contemporary is looking to become only the third person to win a third by the age of 25 after Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.

“I know it’s not easy to have those expectations and to do what he’s done.

“When his driver is on he’s almost unstoppable. I know he gets a little off here and there but I don’t think he has a whole lot of weakness.

“I know there’s been a couple of Fridays where he’s struggled a little bit and kind of fallen back but it seems like he just gets a little off with the driver, misses a few putts and the momentum goes the other way.

“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 definitely going to be tough to catch.

“But I know the weather could throw in a little mix there tomorrow so we’ll see what happens but it’s fun to get to go out and battle against him.”

Compatriot Ryan Moore shot a 68 to also move to six under and he is trying not to focus too much on McIlroy.

“I don’t think much about who’s around me or who’s ahead of me,” he said.

“For me it’s just simply I’m showing up tomorrow, I’m going to play as hard as I can and see what happens.

“Usually in the majors it’s one or two or several of the best players in the world that are going to be up top and that’s just how it goes.

“I like how I’ve played the last couple of days, and just got to keep to doing what I’m doing.”

Meanwhile, McIlroy’s Northern Irish compatriot Graeme McDowell battled his way to a second round of three-under-par to reach the halfway stage at one-under – 11 shots off the lead.

Darren Clarke carded a second successive round of even par to make the cut and progress into the weekend.

It wasn’t so clear-cut for three-time Open champion Tiger Woods.

Woods has holed his fair share of must-make birdie putts at the 18th hole but very few have been necessary just to make the cut.

This one was crucial as it extended his stay in the 143rd Open Championship for another two days on a Royal Liverpool course where he won his third and last Claret Jug in 2006.

It may not make much difference to his chances of winning the tournament as leader McIlroy is 14 strokes better off somewhere in the distance.

However, another two competitive rounds may give the American – and his Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson, who also made the weekend with the same two-over total – an idea of where the 38-year-old’s game is really at after playing just four rounds since back surgery in March.

His driving is still a long way short of what it should be and referring to it as the most dangerous club in his bag is not a good thing.

The club, which he famously used only once in four rounds on his way to victory eight years ago, cost him six shots over 18 holes of the Hoylake links.

“I didn’t hit the driver very good today. I was trying to be bolder, more aggressive,” said Woods.

“With the wind the way it was I could take some of the bunkers out of play, get it down there where I could hit sand wedge into the greens even from the rough.

“Angel (Cabrera, one of his playing partners) was doing that yesterday and did it quite effectively with a different wind but this was a more difficult wind.

“I figured today was a chance where I could go out and be aggressive but I just didn’t drive the ball.”

Since 1975 only five first-round leaders have gone on to win the Open.

The last was Tiger Woods in 2005.

The others were John Daly (1995), Greg Norman (1993), Seve Ballesteros (1988) and Tom Watson (1980).