HOYLAKE, England — Rory McIlroy cast aside any talk of those second-round doldrums with a performance at Royal Liverpool that threatened to turn this into another major championship runaway.
As for Tiger Woods, he was fortunate just to make the cut at the British Open.
Any hopes of a duel between the guy who once ruled golf and the player most likely to take his place as the face of the game quickly faded July 18th as McIlroy romped to a 6-under 66 that gave him a commanding lead heading to the weekend.
This is starting to look like his first two major victories, both by eight shots, at the 2011 U.S. Open and the 2012 PGA Championship.
Woods struggled to a 77, matching the second-worst British Open round of his professional career. A triple-bogey at the 17th nearly sent him home for the weekend, but a delicate chip over a bunker at the 18th set up a 6-foot putt that gave him his only birdie of the day.
It was likely just enough to keep him around for the weekend. He’s got almost no chance of catching McIlroy, trailing the leader by a whopping 14 shots.
Woods has failed to make the cut at a major only three times in his professional career, most recently at the 2011 PGA. He also missed at the 2006 U.S. Open, shortly after the death of his father, and the 2009 British Open.
As if signaling a new era in golf, McIlroy’s matching 66s gave him a 36-hole total of 12-under 132 — the same score that Woods posted at the midway point of his last British Open victory in 2006, at this very same course along the Irish Sea.
And there were no more questions about the strangest quirk in McIlroy’s year — a mysterious run of high scores in the second round, which no one could explain but had admittedly gotten in his head.
The 25-year-old from Northern Ireland had clearly wiped those thoughts away by the time he went out for an afternoon round at Hoylake, where the weather again worked in favor of his end of the draw.
Playing early on July 17, McIlroy benefited from pristine conditions — mild and sunny with barely a hint of a breeze. On July 18th, the wind howled in the morning but settled after lunchtime, taking away the primary defense of a links course.
Through the first two rounds, McIlroy has made only one bogey — at the first hole on July 18. That was long forgotten by the time he closed with three easy-as-can-be birdies over the final four holes, looking as though he barely broke a sweat on a sunny, sticky day.
Dustin Johnson was McIlroy’s closest challenger, claiming a spot in the July 19th last group with the best round of the tournament, a 65 that left him at 136 at the midway point.
No one else was closer than six shots, though there’s plenty of star power in the group at 138 with former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel, young gun Rickie Fowler and perennial major challenger Sergio Garcia, still seeking the signature win of his career after all these years.
(PAUL NEWBERRY, AP National Writer)