HOYLAKE, England – TGIF.
It’s not exactly been Rory McIlroy’s catch phrase of late. Truth be told, the young Northern Irishman has played professional golf’s version of hump day like he is being pursued by Jason Voorhees, the fictional character who terrified a generation in the horror classic “Friday the 13th.”
But on Day 2 at a wind-whipped Open Championship “Rors” may have made history, proving that perhaps one can win a tournament on Friday.
They do tend to go all 72 at these major gatherings and the weekend forecast has even the locals concerned (one English scribe labeled the Saturday forecast as “varying shades of awful.”) which is reason enough for the rest of us to panic, but Friday was always going to be the rubber match for the two-time major champion.
A month of unfortunate Fridays had piled up to become McIlroy’s Achilles heel. Round 2 miscues had become a bad habit, like last week’s 78 at the Scottish Open after an opening 64; or another 78 on Friday at the Memorial Tournament after he cruised out to a first-round 63.
There was a second-round 74 at The Players, a 76 at the Wells Fargo Championship, a 77 at Augusta National and a 74 at the WGC-Cadillac Championship. It all added up to a 72.89 second-round scoring average which left him ranked 181st on PGA Tour Fridays, just 10 places out of dead last.
His Friday swoons had become so ubiquitous that even after an opening 66 at Hoylake vaulted him to an early lead, it was the first thing the gathered scribes wanted to talk about.
“Whenever I go out and play on Thursdays there's not many expectations. You're going out there and you're trying to find a rhythm, and you're just trying to play your way into the round,” said McIlroy in signature honesty.
“When you go back out on Friday after a good score, you know what you can do on the golf course. So you're going out with some expectations compared to on Thursday you're going out with not many.”
He went on to explain that the challenge on Friday, and beyond, is adjusting his mindset, but when he bounced and bounded through the first green for an early bogey, his first of the week, it smacked of the status quo.
It would be McIlroy’s last miscue of the day.
He calmly birdied the fifth, sixth and eighth holes as the wind that battered the morning wave abated and he turned in 33.
Even when things didn’t go his way, like at the par-5 10th hole when he tugged his second shot into hay left of the green, he managed to navigate the knee-high fescue with a delicate chip for another birdie to move to 9 under and three clear of the field.
McIlroy then did what major champions do on the closing loop, known in these corners as the metaphorical downwind leg. He avoided disaster and picked apart the final nine’s three par 5s to post a 6-under 66 for a 12 under total and four-stroke advantage.
His 6-under card beat his season average on Friday by more than 6 1/2 strokes and the day’s windblown scoring average by a staggering 7 1/2 shots.
So much for the Friday curse. But then all curses end, just ask a Boston Red Sox fan.
“It was just another solid round of golf. I didn’t have that (his Friday blues) in my head at all,” he said. “It’s more to shoot a good round today so I don’t have to be asked about it.”
If that sounds overly simplistic it’s because it is.
Much like he did at Congressional when he won the 2011 U.S. Open, McIlroy overpowered Hoylake hitting 9 of 14 fairways while averaging 358 yards off the tee. The idea that he would somehow fold under the pressure of a mystical curse was, in retrospect, outrageous.
“I wouldn’t have expected anything different from yesterday,” said Jordan Spieth, who was paired with McIlroy for Rounds 1 and 2. “Everybody talked about what he’s done on Fridays, I think that was just random days he was off with his swing.”
McIlroy knows there is still work to be done. There will be no early engraving on the claret jug, not with 36 to play and a Saturday forecast fit for a duck. There is still room for error, remember this is the same player who was four clear through 54 holes at the 2011 Masters and finished tied for 15th place. It’s the same complicated competitor who went 63-80-69-68 in 2010 at St. Andrews.
But on Thursday a weary Adam Scott offered some cautionary commentary, “I don’t want (McIlroy) running away with it. We’ve seen him do it. He wins majors by eight (shots).”
The world No. 1’s words left a foreboding feel after Friday’s change of fortune for the frontrunner. Consider that at the 25-year-old’s first major walk-off (2011 U.S. Open) he was a half dozen clear at intermission.
Much remains to be decided, but McIlroy may have climbed his most difficult mountain on Friday.