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McIlroy takes charge at Open

AP, Kyodo

Rory McIlroy only saw birdies at Royal Liverpool, mostly on his scorecard, and even one pheasant that trotted across the eighth green as he was lining up a putt. That was but a minor interruption in his commanding performance Friday at the British Open.

Once he made a birdie, and then another, nothing could stop McIlroy.

Not another collapse in the second round. Not anyone in the field. And certainly not Tiger Woods.

After a bogey on his opening hole stirred memories of another “Black Friday,” McIlroy looked more like the Boy Wonder who won two majors in a runaway. With three birdies in his last four holes, he posted a second straight 6-under 66 to build a four-shot lead over Dustin Johnson.

Hideki Matsuyama shot a two-over-par 74, leaving him 11 shots off the pace in a tie for 24th place.

Despite a strong start, Matsuyama ran into trouble with Royal Liverpool’s pot bunkers, which caused him to bogey three of his last four holes. He was forced to play sideways into the rough from a greenside bunker on the par-3 No. 15, and made bogey at the par-4 No. 17 after his long-iron tee shot found the sand.

His drive on the par-5 closing hole also wound up in a bunker, which led to another bogey after he played out to the fairway and hit his third shot over the green.

“I could have prevented some of those dropped shots if I had done a better job of course management,” Matsuyama said.

“But if I can adjust and make up for my mistakes, anything is possible,” the 22-year-old added.

Koumei Oda carded five bogeys to land on the cut line at two-over 146 along with Woods.

Yoshinobu Tsukada and Hiroshi Iwata missed the cut by one stroke, while Ryo Ishikawa missed by two strokes after shooting a second consecutive 74.

McIlroy spoke of an “inner peace,” and the two secret words that triggered his powerful swing and set up birdie chances on just about every hole.

“People call it the zone, people call it whatever,” he said. “It’s just a state of mind where you think clearly. Everything seems to be on the right track. I’ve always said, whenever you play this well, you always wonder how you’ve played so badly before. And whenever you’ve played so badly, you always wonder how you play so well. I’m happy where my game is at the minute. And hopefully, I can just keep up the solid play for another couple of days.”

Woods is fortunate to even play for two more days.

He started the second round only three shots behind. He finished it on the 18th hole, standing over a 6-foot birdie putt just to avoid missing back-to-back cuts for the first time in his career. Woods made the putt for a 77, matching his second-worst round as a pro at the British Open.

Dustin Johnson birdied the last two holes for a 65, the low score of the week. That ordinarily would put him in the last group with McIlroy, except they will have company in a historic decision at golf’s oldest championship. Because of a nasty storm approaching England, the Open will go to threesomes teeing off on both sides Saturday.

Francesco Molinari (70) will join them. He was part of a large group at 6-under 138 that included Rickie Fowler (69), Sergio Garcia (70), Charl Schwartzel (67), Louis Oosthuizen (68) and Ryan Moore (68).

Johnson had a chance at the claret jug three years ago until a 2-iron that went out-of-bounds on the 14th hole at Royal St. George’s. He also lost a three-shot lead in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, and missed out on a playoff at Whistling Straits for grounding his club in sand at the 2010 PGA Championship.

“I’m glad and I’m in the last group,” Johnson said. “Just go out there and try to shoot a big number.”