I'm back in the hunt, says McIlroy after rescuing Open challenge
World number four Rory McIlroy believes he is back in contention at The Open after rediscovering some form in his short game and on the greens.
The 2014 champion moved to one under for the tournament after a round of 68 which threatened to be even better after three birdies over the first six holes that had given him so many problems on Thursday.
His front nine of 31 was the best of the day and could easily have been better and, although a couple of bogeys coming home halted his momentum, he ensured he finished the day in red figures with a birdie at the par-five 17th.
"I set myself a target of being in a better position today than I was yesterday," said the 28-year-old, whose front nine was eight shots better than his Thursday effort when he had to rally after the turn just to keep alive his chances of staying in the tournament.
"I wanted to be at least level par or under par if possible for the championship and I've been able to achieve that goal that I set myself.
"They're both huge rounds for very different reasons, but this was definitely the round that got me back into the championship."
The 28-year-old benefited from hitting his irons close and his putts on target.
At the Travelers Championship last month he used three different putters on separate days, but he needed no such tinkering on the greens of the Southport links as he gave himself good chances at four of his first half-dozen holes and converted three.
A wind-assisted three-wood 372 yards down the first and a chip to six feet got him up and running and, after leaving a 15ft attempt short, he birdied from 10ft at the third to get under par for the first time in the tournament.
The best was yet to come with an exquisite mid-iron to four feet at the sixth, Thursday's hardest hole but now playing slightly easier with a change in wind direction.
His putter saved him from dropping shots from 12ft and 18ft at the 10th and 11th respectively and he escaped with par from a greenside bunker at 12, but his 24-hole bogey-free run came to an end when he could not get up and down from short of the 13th.
Trouble off the tee at the 15th cost him a shot, but he regained it on the only other par five, the 17th.
"I got off to a good start, which I think is important," added McIlroy, who rejected suggestions he had shown great strength of character to get into the position he is.
"It's not as if I went through war out there. It was just a round of golf. I just stayed patient.
"The back nine is playing really, really difficult, so to birdie three of the first six and give myself that little bit of a cushion to play with was nice.
"I made some key up-and-downs on the start of the back nine - they're the putts that haven't quite been going in over the past few weeks and that's all it takes to keep a round going.
"To see those putts go in on 10 and 11 gives me a lot of confidence going into the weekend.
"To be in after two days and be under par for this championship after the way I started I'm ecstatic with that.
"I hit some quality shots out there, I saw a lot of better iron shots and saw some really good putts going in so I was happy to see that and I just have to try to keep that going for the next two days."