HOYLAKE, England -- Rory McIlroy saw only 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 command performance Friday in 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.

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland pauses play and watches a pheasant crossing the 8th green during the second day of the British Open Golf championship at
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland pauses play and watches a pheasant crossing the 8th green during the second day of the British Open Golf championship at the Royal Liverpool golf club, Hoylake, England, Friday July 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Scott Heppell) (Scott Heppell/AP)

McIlroy spoke of an "inner peace."

"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. ... 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 began the second round 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. Woods made the putt for a 5-over 77.


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Woods hit driver five times -- four more than he hit all week when he won at Royal Liverpool in 2006. None found the fairway. Woods was 14 shots out of the lead and still thought he had a chance, referring to Paul Lawrie making up 10 shots in one round to win at Carnoustie in 1999.

That was against Jean Van de Velde, not McIlroy.

McIlroy was at 12-under 132 -- the same 36-hole score of Woods in 2006.

Justin Rose of England plays a shot off the 9th tee as Adam Scott of Australia and his caddie Steve Williams look on during the second day of the British
Justin Rose of England plays a shot off the 9th tee as Adam Scott of Australia and his caddie Steve Williams look on during the second day of the British Open Golf championship at the Royal Liverpool golf club, Hoylake, England, Friday July 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Scott Heppell) (Scott Heppell/AP)

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. That compressed schedule will allow for up to five hours of delays and enable the round to be completed.

Francesco Molinari (70) will join McIlroy and Johnson in the final group. Molinari, Rickie Fowler (69), Sergio Garcia (70), Charl Schwartzel (67), Louis Oosthuizen (68) and Ryan Moore (68) were all at 138.

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

Four shots can be lost quickly in any major, especially in links golf, particularly in nasty weather. McIlroy followed up a record-tying 63 at St. Andrews in 2010 with an 80 the next day. Even so, the ease with which he moved around Royal Liverpool was more frightening than any forecast.

McIlroy picked up his first birdie with two putts from across the green on the par-5 fifth. But it was on the par-3 sixth, when McIlroy deposited an 8-iron to 7 feet for birdie, that he found that peace and put the pedal down on the rest of the field.

He ushered the pheasant off the eighth green, regrouped and holed a 7-foot birdie putt, chipped to tap-in range on the 10th and then kept giving himself chances on all but one hole until ending with three birdies. McIlroy was in such a groove that with the wind at his back, he hit driver 396 yards on the 17th hole and pitched to 8 feet.

The 17th hole is where Woods fell apart. He started double bogey-bogey and made only pars the rest of the way until his tee shot on 17 was about 100 yards short and 50 yards wider than McIlroy's drive. He was walking down the fairway when he was told it was out of bounds. Back at the tee, he hooked that shot closer to the 16th fairway and made triple-bogey 7. A birdie on 18 enabled Woods to make the cut, a small consolation considering what McIlroy is doing.

"It's not a surprise. He's done this before," Woods said. "Once he gets going, he can make a lot of birdies and he plays pretty aggressively to begin with. And when he's going, he can get it going pretty good."

  • Phil Mickelson had an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole, lost a ball on the par-5 10th but still made par and birdied the par-5 18th for a 2-under 70 and even-par 144. That left him 12 shots behind McIlroy, but the defending champion said "if the wind stays up," he's very much in the tournament.

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    Leader board

    The Leader
    Rory McIlroy 66-66--132 -12
    THE NAMES

    Dustin Johnson 71-65--136 -8
    Rickie Fowler 69-69--138 -6
    Sergio Garcia 68-70--138 -6
    Jim Furyk 68-71--139 -5
    Adam Scott 68-73--141 -3
    Justin Rose 72-70--142 -2
    Phil Mickelson 74-70--144 E
    Tom Watson 73-73--146 +2
    Tiger Woods 69-77--146 +2
    Jordan Spieth 71-75--146 +2
    Lee Westwood 71-76--147 +3
    Bubba Watson 76-72--148 +4
    Ernie Els 79-73--152 +8