Rory McIlroy virtually had the putting green to himself as he finished off the preparations for his second round, striding purposefully after a couple of long ones and then a medium-length attempt before he joined his caddie and they headed off for the 1st tee. He looked as if he meant business.
It was just after 7.45am, light rain had started a couple of hours earlier and there was room to spare in the stands surrounding the tee-box as he hammered his drive down the right-hand side of the fairway, a good 100 yards beyond those of his playing partners, Marc Leishman and Thorbjørn Olesen, who both opted for irons.
He was to miss the birdie putt, as did the other two, and despite several of his tee shots missing the fairways thereafter, one of them at the par-five 6th which ended in the rough on the adjacent 5th before he recovered well but missed a second successive makeable birdie putt, he was to all intents and purposes treading water. Olesen and Leishman had both picked up shots by that stage.
That was to change at the 7th and, with the rain getting heavier, he picked up his first shot and three more followed on the back nine, with two bogeys, and he signed for a two-under 69, the same total as on the first day but with his name significantly advanced on the leaderboard. The world No 8 then pronounced himself satisfied with his morning, even though the changing conditions had forced him to abandon the attack-at-all-costs approach he planned to use.
The Open 2018: Third round tee times
9.15am BST Gavin Green (Mal)
9.25am Rhys Enoch (Wal), Patrick Reed (US)
9.35am Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Tha), Justin Rose (Eng)
9.45am Yusaku Miyazato (Jpn), Tyrrell Hatton (Eng)
9.55am Ross Fisher (Eng), Keegan Bradley (US)
10.05am Ryan Fox (NZ), Jason Dufner (US)
10.15am Bryson DeChambeau (US), Henrik Stenson (Swe)
10.25am Tom Lewis (Eng), Sam Locke [a] (Sco)
10.35am Paul Casey (Eng), Chris Wood (Eng)
10.45am Bernhard Langer (Ger), Rafael Cabrera-Bello (Sp)
11am Paul Dunne (Ire), Brett Rumford (Aus)
11.10am Masahiro Kawamura (Jpn), Shubhankar Sharma (Ind)
11.20am Cameron Smith (Aus), Brendan Steele (USA)
11.30am Marc Leishman (Aus), Lee Westwood (Eng)
11.40am An Byeong-hun (Kor), Kevin Na (US)
11.50am Julian Suri (US), Adam Hadwin (Can)
Midday Gary Woodland (US), Kim Si-woo (Kor)
12.10pm Yuta Ikeda (Jpn), Satoshi Kodaira (Jpn)
12.20pm Marcus Kinhult (Swe), Thomas Pieters (Bel)
12.30pm Beau Hossler (US), Li Haotong (Chn)
12.45pm Cameron Davis (Aus), Sean Crocker (US)
12.55pm Louis Oosthuizen (SA), Stewart Cink (US)
1.05pm Phil Mickelson (US), Austin Cook (US)
1.15pm Shaun Norris (SA), Tiger Woods (US)
1.25pm Lucas Herbert (Aus), Michael Kim (US)
1.35pm Jason Day (Aus), Francesco Molinari (It)
1.45pm Kang Sung-hoon (Kor), Webb Simpson (US)
1.55pm Patrick Cantlay (US), Eddie Pepperell (Eng)
2.05pm Matthew Southgate (Eng), Brooks Koepka (US)
2.15pm Kyle Stanley (US), Adam Scott (Aus)
2.30pm Charley Hoffman (US), Alex Norén (Swe)
2.40pm Ryan Moore (US), Brandon Stone (SA)
2.50pm Luke List (US), Danny Willett (Eng)
3pm Thorbjørn Olesen (Den), Rickie Fowler (US)
3.10pm Jordan Spieth (US), Kevin Chappell (US)
3.20pm Zander Lombard (SA), Tony Finau (US)
3.30pm Matt Kuchar (US), Erik Van Rooyen (SA)
3.40pm Rory McIlroy (NI), Xander Schauffele (US)
3.50pm Pat Perez (US), Tommy Fleetwood (Eng)
4pm Kevin Kisner (US), Zach Johnson (US)
“It was just damp enough and cold enough that the game plan that I was trying to adapt to be aggressive and hit driver a lot, I just couldn’t do it,” McIlroy said.
“A lot of the fairway bunkers were in play with driver where, if it’s dry and a little warmer, you’re flying those bunkers. With the moisture on the club face and the ball, it wasn’t worth it. So it was a lot more irons off tees and a lot more conservative, but I ended up being the same score [as day one], so I’m pretty pleased with that.”
The pace of play, with the three-ball often having to wait to play their second shots from as early as the 2nd fairway – a situation made more difficult by having an amateur shooting eight over in the game ahead and, further in front, Tommy Fleetwood waiting for a ruling by the 6th green – could not have helped, but the trio managed to keep sufficiently dry and fully occupied. The Dane got round in a second successive 70 for a two-under total and Leishman managed a second 72 for two over. The round took them a little over four hours and 40 minutes.
McIlroy had spent the earlier part of the week speaking of a desire to display more of the carefree spirit he showed in his younger playing days and admitted that his failure to put up a meaningful battle when in the final pair with Patrick Reed for the fourth round of the Masters and then to some extent his first 18 holes at the US Open, where he shot an 80, had left a mark on him.
“Sunday at Augusta was a big learning curve for me because, even if I hadn’t won that tournament but I went down swinging and aggressive and committing to every shot, I would have walked away a lot happier,” he said.
“This week one of my main thoughts has been just to let it go. I’d rather fail by trying 100% than by sort of holding back and maybe not giving myself the opportunity to do well. So I’m committed to making sure, even if I don’t play my best golf and shoot the scores I want, I’m going to go down swinging and I’m going to go down giving it my best.
“When I did hit driver today I hit it well, so that was a good thing. So if the conditions do change and go back to the way they were on the first day, I’d see myself hitting a lot more drivers. I’m in a great position going into the third day. I feel like I played in the toughest of the conditions and definitely our side of the draw, we had to tough it out a little bit and I’m happy to be in with a shot.”