Rory McIlroy silences Open doubters

HOYLAKE, England -- "Freaky Friday." That's what they were calling Rory McIlroy's inexplicable second-round journeys into the Land of 40s.

Great rounds on Thursdays. Scorecard train wrecks on Fridays. Six times this year he scribbled 40 or worse on those Friday scorecards. It got so bad that even the great Jack Nicklaus asked him to explain why he melted like fondue during second rounds.

It was in McIlroy's head. Or so McIlroy said. He was a bit of a mess. And then he wasn't.

If you're wondering if McIlroy's Friday-itis was contagious when it came to this week's Open Championship, it appears the vaccination worked. McIlroy backed up his opening-round 66 with a Friday round of -- wait for the trumpets -- another 6-under-par 66. He leads second-place Dustin Johnson by 4 shots.

"I have an inner peace on the golf course," McIlroy said afterward. "I'm very comfortable in this position. I'm very comfortable doing what I'm doing right now."

McIlroy had the first-round lead here at Royal Liverpool. And now he has the second-round lead, too. That's a position worth having. And for what it's worth, the 36-hole leader has won the past three majors.

"He didn't do anything wrong," said Jordan Spieth, one of McIlroy's playing partners. "There are no weaknesses. I don't see any weaknesses as the weekend goes on."

Depending on your fashion sense, the worst thing about McIlroy's day was his fluorescent-green outfit. He looked like a school crossing guard, or perhaps an EMT vehicle. He channeled his inner Oregon Duck ... and his two major victories.

This was the Rory of the 2011 U.S. Open, when he put the cleats to the metal at Congressional and won going away. And the Rory who waved goodbye to the field during the final nine of the PGA Championship in 2012.

"It's hard to describe," he said. "I wish I could get into it more often."

You'd feel peaceful, too, if your driver obeyed your every command. McIlroy hit six of them Friday and pured most of them. His drive on the par-4, 460-yard 17th hole traveled 396 yards. They served snack packs on the flight.

He bogeyed No. 1, then birdied Nos. 5, 6, 8 and 10 to move to 9 under. Midway through that back nine, he decided he wanted to finish at 12 under. When you're at peace, you can do that.

He birdied the par-3 15th, the par-4 17th and the par-5 18th. In fact, the par-5s here at Royal Liverpool have all but hugged the curls out of his hair. He's played them at 6 under.

McIlroy was efficient. Focused. And maybe relieved.

No more Freaky Friday conspiracy theories.

"In a way, it's nice to go out and shoot a good one today, so I don't have to be asked about it again ..." McIlroy said.

McIlroy has never entered the weekend of an Open Championship better than 19th on the leaderboard. He wasn't even around for the weekend last year at Muirfield.

Truth is, this tournament usually punches McIlroy in the face. There was the missed cut in 2013. A T-60 in 2012, T-25 in 2011, T-47 in 2009 and T-42 in 2007. His only top-10 finish was in 2010 at St. Andrews (T-3).

But McIlroy had a feeling this kind of performance was on its way. He said so last week at the Scottish Open. He said so earlier this week. But given his Freaky Fridays (64-78 during the first two rounds of the Scottish), who knew what to believe.

Tiger Woods believed.

"It's not a surprise," Woods said. "He's done this before. He's won both of his majors by 8 [shots]. When he gets going, he can make a lot of birdies. And he plays pretty aggressively to begin with. When he's going, he can get it going pretty good."

You should have seen McIlroy after the round. He looked as stressed as someone getting a mani-pedi. He wanted to lead this tournament. He expected to lead this tournament. That's empowering stuff.

Nothing bothered him. Not the media vigil to see if he'd implode Friday. Not the pressures of leading a major. And not a pheasant that decided to strut across the eighth green as McIlroy prepared to putt. McIlroy was so unnerved that he sank the putt for birdie.

"I haven't run into that before on the golf course," he said. "I might have had a swan or duck or geese or something, but never a pheasant."

During the entire week, McIlroy has tried to keep it simple. He isn't overthinking a thing.

"I've got a couple little words, trigger words, that I'm using this week, that I sort of keep telling myself in my head when I'm ... around the golf course -- when I'm just about to hit it, go into a shot."

Someone asked what the words were.

McIlroy didn't overthink the answer.

"I'll tell you on Sunday, hopefully," he said.