The Open 2017: Rory McIlroy rues mistakes as Birkdale challenge fades

Mixed emotions Rory Mc Ilroy during his practice round

Mixed emotions Rory Mc Ilroy during his practice round

McIlroy will be among the early starters on Friday's second round, and with heavy rain forecast for later in the day, this could be advantageous.

IAN POULTER admitted "s*** happens" after he blew his Open chances as Jordan Spieth sealed a three-shot lead. McIlroy kept his, however. He ground around the turn and then picked up four birdies in eight holes. Now, he is back as one of the favourites. He had played his way into trouble and out of it again.

With designs on a second Claret Jug and a fifth career Major, McIlroy has ironed out numerous problems which plagued him in recent tournaments.

"Whatever", replied McIlroy, who had bogeyed four of his first five holes and was about to drop another shot at No. 6. Three ideal shots. He was off and running, a changed man from the one who'd ventured forth over that front nine in the opening round a day earlier. It was not that he fell apart, more that he did not have it together to begin with.

"And the 18th hole, I made a decision to take driver out off the tee". "They're the putts that haven't quite been going in over the past few weeks". He said, "You're Rory McIlroy, what are you doing?' I said, 'Yeah". By this point the crowd were not cheering him on so much as trying to offer him consolation.

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That's when Rory McIlroy's caddie, J.P. Fitzgerald, stepped in. He was not the only one wondering. After the round, McIlroy said Fitzgerald's question helped him snap back to life.

"I definitely feel like today was an opportunity lost to get right in the mix going into tomorrow". I pulled 5-iron. And there's a hill right of the green with nasty, weedy grass that you just don't want to be in. "And gave me a few positive thoughts".

That was McIlroy's problem. He's played erratically all year, struggling with his driver and his putter and missing cuts in three of the last four tournaments.

Frustratingly he left a 15ft birdie attempt short at the next hole but already looked in far better shape than he had yesterday afternoon when he was five over through six holes and seemingly destined to crash out before his back-nine rally. It all made McIlroy's second-round 68 look pretty much ingenious. Then at the 8th a switch flicked. "It was big", he said.

At one-under par for the tournament, McIlroy has put himself in position to have a big say in the destination of the Claret Jug for the next 12 months.

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"The back nine is playing really, really hard, so to birdie three of the first six and give myself that little bit of a cushion to play with was nice".

By the time he came into the stretch, he had his mojo running. That last got the loudest cheer of the day.

"I'm loving it. I feel like my game's back to form and I can go toe-to-toe with anyone, so let's see where it takes me". "It's a bit like Ryder Cup at Medinah in 2012". Dustin Johnson's iron play was uncharacteristically off target. He finished one over too, with a solitary birdie at the 2nd and a couple of bogeys at the 7th and 14th.

His one-under round still leaves him six shots back of the lead and not exactly in the hunt at the moment.

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