An “ecstatic” Rory McIlroy had no need of a pep talk after one of his best rounds ever in the Open Championship kept him firmly in contention for a fifth major title at a wet and windy Royal Birkdale.
McIlroy was five over par after six holes of his opening round and seemed destined for a fourth missed cut in five events until a stern talking to from caddie JP Fitzgerald prompted a back-nine rally.
The world number four came home in 32 with three birdies in the last four holes and maintained that momentum on Friday, despite far tougher conditions which led to a short suspension in play in late afternoon. Birdies on the first, third and sixth helped McIlroy reach the turn in 31, eight shots fewer than on Thursday and - although he dropped shots on the 13th and 15th - a birdie on the 17th helped the 28-year-old complete a superb 68.
“That’s right up there,” said McIlroy, who equalled the lowest score in major history with an opening 63 at St Andrews in 2010 and opened with consecutive 66s on his way to victory at Hoylake in 2014.
“It’s really tough out there. I was lucky enough to get off to that great start but conditions got a little worse on the back nine.
“This south-east wind is the toughest on this course and I made a couple of bogeys, but (was) really pleased to birdie 17.
“To be in after two days and be under par for this championship after the way I started, I’m ecstatic with that.
“I set myself a target of being in a better position today than I was yesterday.
“I wanted to be at least level par or under par if possible for the championship and I’ve been able to achieve that goal that I set myself.
“They’re both huge rounds for very different reasons, but this was definitely the round that got me back into the championship.
“I got off to a good start, which I think is important.
“It’s not as if I went through war out there, it was just a round of golf. I just stayed patient.
“The back nine is playing really, really difficult, so to birdie three of the first six and give myself that little bit of a cushion to play with was nice.
“I made some key up-and-downs on the start of the back nine - they’re the putts that haven’t quite been going in over the past few weeks and that’s all it takes to keep a round going.
“To see those putts go in on 10 and 11 gives me a lot of confidence going into the weekend.”