A frustrated Rory McIlroy admitted his game is "not close enough" after he squeezed into the weekend at The Open Championship with a second consecutive up-and-down level-par round of 70 at Royal St George's in Sandwich, Kent.
The Holywood man battled back from bogeys on his opening two holes to get under-par after a birdie at the 11th, however back-to-back bogeys at the 16th and 17th left him needing a birdie on his closing hole to help him comfortably inside the cut line.
At the top of the leaderboard, former US PGA champion Collin Morikawa dazzled on Friday morning with a six-under 64 to reach -9 for the week and claim a three-shot lead before Thursday's overnight leaders Louis Oosthuizen and Jordan Spieth began their afternoon chases.
It meant McIlroy was nine back when he left the course and likely left with too much to do in order to mount a sensational run at a second Claret Jug.
But the 2014 champion will just be happy to be safely in for the weekend, with the cut likely to be one-over or at best level-par. What he will not be overly happy with is how his round was once again wildly inconsistent.
His start was poor, the 32-year-old three-putting the first and failing to make up-and-down from right of the second green to bogey his opening two holes, but he did recover with a birdie at the fourth after hitting a nice approach to around seven feet, and he got it back to level-par at the ninth with another birdie.
But the delight of a birdie at the 11th, which was nearly an eagle after a delightful wedge approach to the par-four, to get to one-under was short-lived as he passed up a birdie chance at the par-five 14th and then dropped back-to-back shots at 16 and 17.
His fears for the weekend were abated when he birdied the last after a fine approach left him eight feet to get back to level-par.
"If I was really on my game and sharp the last two days I could have been six or seven under. (My game) is close but it's not close enough,” he said.
"That's the way it's kind of been for the last few months, it just hasn't quite been close enough. I've just got to keep at it, persist and keep my head down.
"You see the progress, but then the progress has to become not just every once in a while, it has to become every single time, and I'm working my way towards that."
As for potentially making an unlikely come from behind challenge to claim the title and a fifth Major, McIlroy admits it is a hopeful target that he is not going to give up on, even if the odds are stacked firmly against him at Royal St George's.
"I need to go out and play really well tomorrow and pray for some wind tomorrow afternoon and see where that gets me. Right now I'm just trying to play my own game and not look at the leaderboard," insisted the World No.11.
"It's tough to be here and just say I'm glad to be here for the weekend, but the position I found myself in on the 18th tee, that's the reality. It was nice to birdie the last and guarantee some weekend golf, and I just have to try and make the most of that."
The man of the morning wave was Morikawa, who equalled Oosthuizen's first-round 64 that could have been even better as he dropped a shot at the 15th and also missed a short birdie putt on the 18th, but at nine-under for the tournament he is in a very strong position going into the weekend.
"I wouldn't be here through these two rounds if I hadn't played last week at the Scottish Open,” he said. “I've played in firm conditions. I can think of places I've played in tighter, drier conditions, but just having fescue fairways and the ball sitting a little different was huge to see last week.
"I changed my irons, my nine through seven-iron that I normally have blades in. I changed to the MCs strictly because I couldn't find the centre of the face. I was sitting these iron shots last week that I just normally don't and my swing felt good, but it was a huge learning opportunity.
"Last week I wanted to win, but I came out of it learning a lot more, and thankfully it helped for this week."
Emiliano Grillo became the third man this week to fire a 64 as he took only 30 shots to complete his back nine to move from level-par into contention at six-under and in a tie for second alongside Marcel Siem and Daniel Van Tonder, who had a 66 on Friday.
"I think I'll take 64 any day, even playing with my friends," laughed Grillo, who had a hole-in-one at the 2019 Open at Royal Portrush.
Meanwhile, Siem, who only qualified for the event last week by winning the Le Vaudreuil Challenge on the second-tier Challenge Tour, is making the most of his late invite as he sits at tied for second after a second consecutive 67 on Friday.
Van Tonder, who won the Kenya Savannah Open on the European Tour this year, added on his 66: "Very happy. Left a few putts out there but, other than that, happy with the performance. I was consistent. I was in trouble a few times but managed to muscle it out there a few times, but recovered from that, so (I'm) happy."
With the cut looking like it will stay at one-over, several big names look at risk of missing the weekend, with 2018 champion Francesco Molinari - who took a quadruple-bogey seven at the par-three sixth - at two-over and World No.7 Patrick Cantlay at three-over among them.
Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke, who shot a one-over 71 in his opening round, was among the afternoon wave of starters but seemed unlikely to make the weekend, struggling at six over for the day and +7 for the week through 12 holes.