McIlroy reins it in at British Open, stays in mix with 69

(AP Photo/Peter Morrison)

By STEVE DOUGLAS

AP Sports Writer

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland (AP) Rory McIlroy has the word "NASTY" written on the soles of his golf shoes and he's talking about "going out swinging" in a bid to end his four-year drought in the majors.

McIlroy wants to be as aggressive as he can at the British Open this week.

It just wasn't possible Friday.

Cold and wet conditions greeted the early starters in the second round and McIlroy was forced to tinker with his game plan at Carnoustie, playing conservatively in shooting a 2-under 69 that left him two strokes off Zach Johnson's clubhouse lead.

"It was definitely a day," McIlroy said, "where you don't shoot yourself out of the tournament."

Expect it to be different over the weekend, weather-permitting.

"I've been a little bit too careful and tentative when I've been in these big tournaments," the 4-time major champion added. "So this week, one of my main thoughts is just to let it go."

McIlroy was particularly perturbed by his meek display in the final round of the Masters in April, which he started three shots off the lead and was only one back after two holes. Then his putter went cold and he stumbled to a closing 74.

He missed the cut at the U.S. Open last month, for the third straight year, after opening with a 10-over 80.

So McIlroy arrived in Scotland pledging to have a bolder mindset, with a nod to his 2007 self. His hair was more curly back then and his body not nearly as chiseled, but his game was bold and he even made the cut as an amateur that year at Carnoustie.

"Sunday at Augusta was a big learning curve again for me because, even if I hadn't won that tournament but I went down swinging and aggressive and committing to every shot, I would have walked away a lot happier," he said.

"So I'm committed to making sure, even if I don't play my best golf and don't shoot the scores I want, I'm going to go down swinging and I'm going to go down giving it my best ... I've sometimes forgotten that, and just need to get back in that mindset."

Setting out at 7:52 a.m. in the eighth group of a miserable morning, McIlroy mostly used irons off the tee - he hit driver six times - and usually played safe, intent on avoiding the fairway bunkers that driver would bring into play. He did, though, miss the sixth and 17th fairways each by about 30 yards.

As well as the two 25-foot putts he rolled in, he was also happy with only dropping one shot in the closing four holes - a grueling stretch he describes as a "slog." He played Nos. 15-18 in even par on Thursday.

McIlroy spoke, too, of his improved mindset in links golf. This is the same player who, after a particularly soggy British Open round at Royal St. George's in 2011, said he was "not a fan of golf tournaments that the outcome is predicted so much by the weather. It's not my sort of golf."

"I just kept levelheaded when I needed to," McIlroy said Thursday, "and you know what, I didn't let the conditions get to me. I wasn't sort of saying to myself, `Geez, I wish I was on the other side of the draw.' I just sort of got on with it."

Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80

Updated July 20, 2018

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