HOYLAKE, England — Rory McIlroy had everything go his way Thursday in the British Open.
He made half his six birdies on the par 5s and kept bogeys off his card. And on the day Tiger Woods made a promising return, McIlroy took the lead with a 6-under 66, his best score in nearly two years at a major.
Now if he can only find a way to get to the weekend.
McIlroy either set himself up for a good run at the claret jug or another dose of Friday failures. In what already has been an unusual year for golf, no trend is more mysterious than Boy Wonder going from awesome to awful overnight.
Six times in his last eight tournaments, he has had a nine-hole score of 40 or higher on Friday that has taken him out of the mix.
“It’s not like I’ve shot good scores in first rounds and haven’t backed them up before,” McIlroy said. “I’m used to doing that. I just haven’t done it recently. We’ll see what tomorrow brings and what weather it is and try and handle it as best I can.
“Hopefully,” he said, “it’s just one of those things and I’m able to turn it around tomorrow.”
Woods also would like to keep moving in the right direction. He got off to a troubling start with two quick bogeys, nearly made another one on the fourth hole, and then looked like a 14-time major champion when he ran off five birdies in six holes toward the end of his round for a 69.
Not bad for guy who had back surgery March 31, who started taking full swings only a month ago and who had not played in a major in 11 months.
Francesco Molinari and Edoardo Molinari have games that are nothing alike, though they shot the same score. They were in a large group at 68 along with Jim Furyk, Sergio Garcia, Brooks Koepka, Shane Lowry and Adam Scott.
Scott stands out as the No. 1 player in the world, and because he was the only player in the top 10 who played in the afternoon when the wind made Hoylake tougher. Scott went out in 31 and was slowed only by two bogeys on the back nine.
Phil Mickelson was trying to get back to even par when he hooked his approach to the 18th beyond the out-of-bounds stakes down the right side of the hole and had to scramble for a bogey and a 74. He hasn’t broken par at a major since winning at Muirfield last summer.
That still doesn’t top the bad day of Ernie Els. His opening tee shot hit a spectator in the face, and the sight of so much blood shook the Big Easy. When he got to the green, he missed a 1-foot putt, and then carelessly tried to back-hand the next one into the hole and missed that one. The triple bogey sent him to a 79.
Through all this activity, two names came to the forefront — McIlroy and Woods, both trying to restore their games from different circumstances.
Photo via Ian Rutherford/USA Today Sports