By STEVE DOUGLAS (AP Sports Writer)
HOYLAKE, England (AP) — Rory McIlroy is nine shots off the halfway lead at the British Open.
So, the tournament favorite was asked after his second round, what will he need to do over the weekend to catch leader Brian Harman?
“I think more of the same,” McIlroy said.
Indeed, McIlroy is pretty happy with his two days’ work at Royal Liverpool, having followed an even-par 71 on Thursday with a 70 in pleasant conditions on Friday.
A defiant fist pump after making an 8-foot birdie putt on the 18th was an indication that McIlroy feels he’s still in contention for a first major title in nine years, since lifting the claret jug here at Hoylake.
After all, positioned in a tie for 11th, there aren’t too many players between the Northern Irishman and the lead.
“Depends what the conditions are tomorrow,” McIlroy said, in a nod to wet and windy weather forecast for Saturday and Sunday. “Obviously depends what Brian does, as well.
“Right now it’s not quite out of my hands. But at the same time, I think if I can get to 3, 4, 5-under par tomorrow going into Sunday, I’ll have a really good chance.”
McIlroy’s putting will have to improve over the weekend. There were echoes of his missed putt from three feet at No. 8 on Thursday in the way he slid by a birdie chance from a little over four feet at the third hole of his second round.
Still, he’d picked up two birdies — on Nos. 1 and 5 — by the time he reached the turn, only to give them back on what he described as two of the easier holes on the course, the par-4 11th and the par-5 15th.
On the 15th, he drove into a bunker and then was disappointed to come up 20 yards short of the green with his third shot from 232 yards out from the middle of the fairway.
McIlroy’s tee shot on the long 18th was wild — it went way left, nearer to the fairway on the first hole — but his lie in the trampled-down grass was fine. After nearly reaching the green with his second, he got up-and-down with a flop shot over the bunker followed by a birdie putt that never looked like missing.
“Rory! Rory!” was the roar from the giant grandstand around the green. As playing partners Jon Rahm (2 over) and Justin Rose (6 over) trudged off, there was a clear spring in McIlroy’s step.
McIlroy doesn’t regard the 26th-ranked Harman as someone who will struggle to handle the pressure of leading the Open — “A pretty laid-back, unflappable sort of a guy,” was how McIlroy described him — and he even had some advice for the American who has never won a major.
“Not getting ahead of yourself, not thinking about what could happen or what should happen, or what you’re going to drink out of the claret jug,” McIlroy said. “You just have to stay in the present and stay in the moment.”
That’s exactly what McIlroy will try to do, and some of the pressure will be off him now.
“It played tough. It played really, really tough. Ten-under par is unbelievably impressive out there,” McIlroy said. “We’ll see what the weekend holds. But after two days I’m actually pretty happy with my two days’ work.”
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