sport

McIlroy charges four clear

Rory McIlroy will take a four-shot lead into the third round of the Open Championship after shooting a second successive six-under-par 66 at Royal Liverpool.

The Northern Irishman started the day with a one-shot lead but with a reputation for squandering impressive starts to tournaments with Friday flops.

There was to be no repeat at Hoylake, however, as he took full advantage of benign afternoon conditions to card seven birdies after starting the round with his only bogey of the week to date.

The 25-year-old two-time major champion's closest pursuer is American Dustin Johnson, who carded the day's only bogey-free round and signed for a best-of-the-week 65.

Two shots further back is a pack of six players on six under par that includes Spaniard Sergio Garcia and Italian Francisco Molinari.

Tiger Woods holed a five-foot birdie putt on the last to make the cut right on the limit of two over par, but Ryder Cup stars Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter both missed out by a shot.

McIlroy has made an unfortunate habit of following good rounds on Thursday with bad ones on Friday in 2014, the latest example being scores of 64 and 78 in the Scottish Open last week. A similar sequence at the Memorial at Muirfield Village even had tournament host Jack Nicklaus asking 'How the hell can you shoot 63 and then 78?'

In total in 2014 he was 50 under par in the first round and nine over par in the second, but with a round that puts him on course to become only the third player in the modern era - after Woods and Jack Nicklaus - to win three majors by the age of 25.

It is the first time McIlroy has led at halfway in a major since the 2011 US Open, when he went on to win his first major by eight shots after rewriting the record books at Congressional.

And by getting the benefit of the best conditions with early-late tee times it made amends for leading the 2010 Open at St Andrews with an opening 63 only to follow it with an 80 in atrocious conditions.

McIlroy could have been forgiven for fearing the worst when he bogeyed the first hole after overshooting the green, but with the wind dropping he regained the lead with a two-putt birdie on the fifth and moved two ahead with another birdie on the sixth.

Even the distraction of a pheasant wandering across the eighth green as he lined up another birdie putt failed to prevent McIlroy from picking up another shot, while he also birdied the 10th before surprisingly missing from four feet on the 11th.

The Northern Irishman did then hole from that distance on the 15th after a superb tee shot and a drive of almost 400 yards on the 17th set up another, while he pitched to four feet on the last to end in style.

In contrast, Woods pulled his opening drive so badly that it ended in thick rough to the left of the fairway on the adjacent 18th, from where he missed the green with his approach and hacked his third shot onto the green and off the other side.

From there he chipped on and two-putted for a double bogey, while his drive on the second also found the rough and his approach ran over the back of the green to lead to a bogey.

A run of 14 straight pars was then followed by a wild drive out of bounds on the 17th to run up a triple-bogey seven which suddenly dropped him outside the cut line and it took typical determinati on .

Five-time Open champion Tom Watson matched Woods' two-over total and will play at the weekend, breaking his own 2012 record as the oldest player to make the cut in the championship.

The 64-year-old American needed a par-five at the last hole to confirm his place in Saturday's third round and he decided on a conservative approach.

"I played old man's golf," he said. "There was no sense at all in trying to get on the green in two. I hit it to the right, hit it to the left and then hit it on the green before two putting The American Ryder Cup captain is not at Hoylake simply to cast his eye over possible members of his team for Gleneagles in September. "I came over here with a purpose to play my best golf and play at the weekend," he added. "Let's see what happens at the weekend, let's see if the old guy can maybe get it rolling a little bit."

The Open will employ a two-tee start for the first time in its history due to the significant risk of thunderstorms at Royal Liverpool on Saturday.

Play is scheduled to get under way at 9am from both the first and 10th tee, with the field split into groups of three rather than two. It is hoped that will allow the round to be completed on schedule even if there are delays of up to five hours.

David Rickman, the R&A's director of rules and equipment standards, said there was no suggestion this would be repeated in future but was "a reaction to the issues we face tomorrow and should be viewed as that".

He added that a "disruptive" weather forecast from the Met Office pointed to "a significant risk of thunderstorms and heavy rain consistent with an amber weather warning in place.

"It's producing a very consistent message and it's a big system called a Spanish Plume that is unlikely to be susceptible to minor movements."