Rory McIlroy teed off on the first hole at the British Open on Friday, then headed off in pursuit of the ball.
“You can do this, Rory!” a fan yelled.
But after his ball landed in the deep rough far to the right of the fairway, even the former world No. 1 — seven years removed from his last major victory — had to be wondering what, exactly, he still can do.
“It’s tough to be here and just say, ’I’m glad to be here for the weekend,’” McIlroy said after making birdie on the final hole at Royal St. George’s to finish at even par for the second straight day.
“But the position I find myself in on the 18th tee, that’s the reality,” said McIlroy, who is 11 strokes behind 36-hole leader Louis Oosthuizen. “It was nice to birdie the last and guarantee some weekend golf, and just got to try to make the most of that.”
Two years after his late but unsuccessful charge to make the cut in his native Northern Ireland, McIlroy started his second round on Friday by missing a 4-foot par putt on No. 1. He followed with another bogey — he hit wedge from the fairway — that left the gallery groaning and McIlroy standing by the side of the second green, practicing his swing and shaking his head.
“I was looking forward to getting out there today, and trying to capitalize on the good finish from (2019),” said McIlroy, who shot 65 in the second round at Royal Portrush but missed the cut by one stroke. “And then two bogeys in the first two holes sort of put me behind the eight-ball a little bit.”
He played himself back to 1 under by the 12th hole, then made a mental error on the par-3 16th, trying to get too close to the pin and failing to cover a bunker. A missed 2-foot putt on No. 17 left him 1 over and in danger of missing the weekend for the second time in a row. (The 2020 Open was canceled because of the pandemic.)
But McIlroy sank a 10-foot birdie putt on the par-4, 456-yard 18th to get back to even par.
“I felt a little nervous going to that 18th tee. I knew I needed a par at least, but birdie to at least be comfortable this afternoon while I watch the golf,” he said. “It was nice to birdie 18 and at least make sure that I’m here for the weekend. Because I think at 1 over I would have been sweating a little bit.”
One of three men — with Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods — to win four majors by the age of 25, McIlroy still draws big galleries, especially in Britain and Ireland. And this year, they will have four days to cheer him on.
“I think everyone has missed this tournament for the last couple years. It’s nice to have it back,” McIlroy said. “I’ve had a great support out there the last couple days, and as I said, pleased at least to get in the clubhouse and make sure I get a bit more support over the next two days, as well.”