By Martyn Herman
HOYLAKE England (Reuters) – Rory McIlroy recovered from an early hiccup to lead a European charge at the British Open on Friday while Sergio Garcia provided the fireworks at a blustery Royal Liverpool course.
Northern Irishman McIlroy, the overnight leader, stumbled to a bogey on the first hole but was then a model of control as he picked up three shots to lead on eight-under with nine holes of his second round remaining.
The 25-year-old, looking to win the Open for the first time, birdied the fifth and the sixth and moved two clear with a putt into the center of the hole on the eighth after the green was invaded by a pheasant.
Popular Spaniard Garcia also bogeyed the first but then holed his approach shot at the second for an eagle two that produced a huge roar from packed galleries.
Garcia gained shots on the fifth and the 10th, both par-fives, and was two shots behind McIlroy along with Italian Francesco Molinari.
With winds gusting at 20mph for the earlier starters, there was very little movement on the leaderboard although South Africa’s George Coetzee made light of stiffening breezes to sail up the leaderboard with a barrage of birdies.
Coetzee, at five under, was the early clubhouse leader after his second round 69.
With Tiger Woods struggling to make an impression, Jim Furyk was leading the American challenge on five-under with five holes of his second round still to play.
After the calm conditions of Thursday, when McIlroy made the early running, the par-72 coastal links was far less benevolent as the players returned to action.
By late morning, only five players had broken par on the outward nine but birthday boy Coetzee showed what could be done on the homeward stretch with four birdies in six holes after the turn briefly joining McIlroy at the top of the leaderboard.
“I think the wind actually helped me a little bit really because of the way I shape the ball I could commit to it,” said Coetzee, 28 today, who challenged strongly at Sandwich three years ago when he finished in a tie for 15th.
For the second day in a row three-times champion Woods made a hash of the opening two holes.
The 38-year-old, who had played only two competitive rounds since back surgery in March coming into the Open, hit a shocking tee shot on the first, finding deep rough down the left, and after a circuitous route to the green and seeing his bogey putt lip out he had to suck up a six.
Another bogey followed on the next hole as dropped back to level par for the tournament.
He was also in trouble in long grass at the back of the third green but a masterful chip allowed him to avoid another dropped shot before he parred the next eight holes.
Several big names trying to kick start their challenges early on Friday suffered frustration.
World number one Adam Scott, who began the day two shots off the lead, dropped shots at the second and third holes, both par fours into the wind, although he did earn one back at the fifth.
The Australian ended the day with a couple of birdies to sit three under going into the weekend.
“The last 36 of the major is going to be a grind,” Scott, who was hoping for tough weather conditions, told reporters. “I’m certainly up for that challenge.”
Defending champion Phil Mickelson, who fell in love with links golf last year when he triumphed in Muirfield after 19 failed Open attempts, eagled the fifth hole on his way to a two-under 70 that kept him just about in touch on level par.
For the second day in a row the American drove out of bounds, although this time he still managed a par-five at the 10th with his replacement ball.
U.S. Masters champion Bubba Watson was itching to get home to Florida after plunging to a four-over-par tally of 148. The big-hitting American was two strokes adrift of the projected cut line after a level-par 72.
“I can’t wait to get back to see my wife and child,” Watson told reporters. “If I make the cut, if somehow a miracle happens, I’ll be ready to go tomorrow and be pumped up about it.”