The first hole at Royal Birkdale is the most difficult opening hole on all the courses in the Open rota. Birkdale’s sixth is the toughest hole on the course. All Rory McIlroy did on Friday, in swirling English wind, was birdie both of them as he got back into contention at The Open Championship.
McIlroy carded a 68 on a tough weather day to hit the clubhouse at -1 for the tournament, just four strokes behind clubhouse leader Brooks Koepka at the time.
McIlroy hasn’t won a major in nearly three years. In post-Tiger golf terms, that’s an eternity. He’s fallen into a familiar pattern at majors: throw up one gag-inducing number, then spend the rest of the weekend trying to cover up his mistakes like a kid gluing back together his mother’s broken china. McIlroy is good enough to card mid-60s rounds at any course he plays, which leads to deceptively good-looking results when he back-doors his way into top-10 finishes.
It appeared McIlroy was going to get his ejection day out of the way early during Thursday’s first round. He was five-over after just six holes. But then a timely reminder from his caddie J.P. Fitzgerald—”You’re Rory [expletive] McIlroy”—lit the proverbial fire under McIlroy. He closed the day with four birdies, including three in the final four holes, and maybe, just maybe, hope flickered.
McIlroy stoked the fire on Friday morning, with three birdies in his first six holes. That totaled out to a 63 over the course of 18 holes across Thursday and Friday, which would tie a record if it didn’t have sleep in the middle of it. McIlroy struggled a bit on the back nine with bogeys on 13 and 15 but recovered with one final birdie on No. 17.
McIlroy ought to benefit from the weather as Friday wears on. Co-leader Matt Kuchar, on the course at the same time as McIlroy, was unable to stretch his lead and posted a 71 for the round.
And with high winds and rain projected to roll in right as the other co-leaders, Brooks Koepka and Jordan Spieth, hit the course, McIlroy could enter the weekend in an unexpected position: in contention.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.