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The Open 2018: Rory McIlroy: I'm prepared to go down swinging in victory bid

By Brian Keogh

Golf has little connection with the sport of kings, but if there's such a thing as horses for courses then Rory McIlroy is well and truly off and running at The Open.

Rain has featured in all four of the Co Down man's Major wins and he's now lurking ominously on four-under par, just two shots behind leaders Zach Johnson and Kevin Kisner after an impressive second successive 69 from the tougher side of the draw.

He admitted yesterday that he learned a harsh lesson at The Masters in April, where he felt he was too cagey and conservative and failed to do himself justice in the final group alongside Patrick Reed, posting an anaemic 74 that day to finish six adrift.

"Worrying too much about the result, not focusing as much on the process," McIlroy said of the lessons learned that Sunday. "Sunday at Augusta was a big learning curve for me because even if I hadn't won, had gone down swinging and aggressive and committed to every shot, I would have walked away a lot happier.

"So I'm committed to making sure, even if I don't play my best and don't shoot the scores I want, I'm going to go down swinging, giving it my best."

Whether he chooses wisely when to attack and makes more birdies than bogeys over the weekend on a dangerous Carnoustie remains to be seen.

But with the rain taking the sting out of the course, he's undoubtedly got the firepower to inflict some damage.

"The fairways definitely didn't have as much fire in them," he said of a rain-soaked morning round in which he used the driver six times but was also forced to play conservatively because he could not carry the ball 320 yards through the air.

"I was surprised. There was a couple of holes where I thought I'd hit shots that were going to end up in a fairway bunker, and they were a good bit short.

"So I think the fire has been taken a little bit out of the fairways and the greens as well, but the greens have been sort of receptive all week."

With six strokes covering the top 39 players, today will be a mega moving day with Carnoustie denuded of rough and the fiery fairways anaesthetised by steady rainfall.

Renowned tactician Johnson, the 2015 champion, shot 67 and the precise Kisner a 71 to lead by a shot on six-under from England's Tommy Fleetwood, who fired an immaculate six-under 65.

As it eased off later and the sun emerged, Arizona's Pat Perez (42) shot 68 and the impressive Californian Xander Schauffele (24) a 66 to share third with Fleetwood on five under.

The leaderboard is a menagerie of styles, with big hitters like McIlroy, Tony Finau, Zander Lombard and South African Erik van Rooyen all tied for sixth with a tactical player like Matt Kuchar.

It was no surprise to see afternoon starters Kevin Chappell, Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler make hay and move to within three of the lead on three-under.

But there were also disasters with Spain's Jon Rahm moving into the top six after a birdie-bogey-birdie start only to self-implode with six dropped shots in three holes from the seventh, carding a 78 to miss the cut.

McIlroy's game was hugely impressive and, while he made two bogeys, his haul of four birdies owed much to his decisive putting and precision iron play as his driving.

When asked if he had any advice for McIlroy on tackling Carnoustie in an Open, Padraig Harrington said: "I think he knows what he's doing.

"From the wrong side of the draw it looks very positive. The two days he's had, you'd say they were tough enough conditions and certainly it looks like the tougher side of the draw. To keep yourself in contention, he's got to be feeling good."

Of the five Irishmen in the field, only Paul Dunne managed to join McIlroy for the weekend, finishing with three pars for a 73 to make the three-over cut with a shot to spare.

Shane Lowry's decision to leave his caddie on the sidelines was a shock in the middle of a Championship, and a 73 was no surprise as he missed the cut by two shots.

"It was just stress that wasn't necessary really," Dunne sighed. "I can still climb up over the weekend but it was disappointing really.

"I was in a great position to make a good run over the weekend and just didn't do it. To have a chance now, I need two outstanding weekend rounds."

Harrington's return to the scene of his 2007 breakthrough was not a happy one and, at 46, the course wore him down.

"Yesterday afternoon's finish really scuppered me," said Harrington, who played his last four holes in three-over for the second day running, adding a 74 to his opening 76 to finish on eight over.

"I definitely seemed to run out of steam both days. Maybe I just made it a bit difficult for myself for the first 14 holes, even if I was scoring okay, it was far from stress-free.

"Maybe the course wore me down. It's tough when you're not creating too many chances and, even if you're getting up and down for pars, it is wearing. So it got the better of me."

As for Darren Clarke, the 2011 champion shot an 83 - his worst round in 27 appearances - to finish last on 23-over.

The Dungannon ace is now counting down to his PGA Tour Champions debut in the Boeing Classic next month as he turns 50 on August 14, and he's looking forward to next year's Open at Royal Portrush, his adopted home.

Carnoustie claimed three of the world's top five players among its victims as Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas joined Rahm in missing the cut.

And only a birdie at the last from Justin Rose prevented the top trio failing to make the weekend at a Major for only the second time since the creation of the rankings in 1986.

The only time it has happened was 13 months ago when Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day all bowed out on the Friday of the 2017 US Open at Erin Hills.

Rose carded a 73 to sneak into the weekend right on the cut at three-over, which ruled out World No.1 Johnson and No.2 Thomas and fifth-ranked Spaniard Rahm. Johnson was six over for 36 holes, Thomas four-over and Rahm five-over.

Rose said: "Left it late until the 18th hole but, obviously, that birdie was important for me to be in it for the week."

After a second-round 77 ruined his chances, Thomas wrote on Twitter: "Gonna figure out this tournament one of these years! Absolutely love @theopen and links golf, just have to eliminate the mistakes. Onward and upward."

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