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British Open might be another Rory runaway

ColumnSportsGolfBritainBritish OpenDustin JohnsonTiger Woods
Rory McIlroy leads by four shots after his second consecutive 66 at Royal Liverpool
McIroy has won two majors, both by eight shots

The Rory Story became an international bestseller again Friday.

Young Mr. McIlroy, Northern Ireland's 25-year-old golfing phenom, dismantled a Royal Liverpool course that is supposed to be resistant to that sort of dissection. That's why it is in the British Open rotation.

He leads the tournament by four shots after 36 holes, and only a sparkling round of 65 by Dustin Johnson, best of the week, made the lead that small.

McIlroy shot a second consecutive 66, is 12 under par, and if you are looking for a sports star in a zone, get a tape of Friday's round.

McIlroy has been spotted long ago as an amazing talent. Even (you only dare whisper it if you are a U.S. golf fan) the next Tiger Woods. He has won two major titles, the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional and the PGA championship the next year at Kiawah Island in South Carolina.

Notable was that he didn't just win, he ran away and hid. He won both by eight shots.

But his play here, purring along like a new Porsche engine, has dazzled even the most veteran of observers.

"He really put it together today," said Tom Watson, who has won the British five times and made the cut here at age 64. "He's a young man who can really play."

McIlroy started with a bogey and had the media center buzzing: "Here we go again."

He has had a tendency to start fast in tournaments and fall on his face the next day. The media has labeled those his "Freaky Fridays."

Among the most notable was the 80 that followed his record 63 in the first round of the British Open at St. Andrews in 2010.

Nor has he done well in the British.

His rally to third place at St. Andrews was his best. His other finishes have been 42nd, 47th, 25th and 60th.

Also, the bad Friday rounds have continued recently.

Not this Friday. He was just freaky good.

"It's nice to go out and shoot a good one today," McIlroy said, "so I don't have to be asked about it again."

He stands 5 feet 10, weighs 160 pounds and hits the golf ball like you'd expect from LeBron James. The source of the leverage is a mystery, other than perfect timing and technique. He drove one 396 yards on the 17th hole Friday to set up a short chip to birdie range.

"I said yesterday, in hindsight, that I should have hit driver off No. 17," he said. "Today I went with it and it worked out well."

Those 396-yard drives usually do.

McIlroy's two previous major titles do not bode well for those chasing him.

"I'm very comfortable in this position," he said.

Two things might intrude on that comfort zone, even though he spoke about playing with an inner peace and having a couple of "trigger words" that he repeats to himself during the round to keep him thinking on the right track.

First, this is the British Open, his home major. There was no question, in how he has been greeted and treated by the huge crowds here at Hoylake, that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom.

He once walked out on a plank and almost stepped off the edge when he said, after a particularly bad round in a particularly bad day of weather at a British Open, that he preferred to play more in the calmer weather of the United States tour.

That was a tabloid ruckus for a while, and only his subsequent success and the ability to rationalize that away as the words of somebody too young to know better got him back in good graces.

Even his recent bad form of calling off his wedding with Danish tennis star Caroline Wozniacki after the invitations had been sent out has seemed to leave few scars on his reputation.

He is forever smiling, cooperative and upbeat. He seldom ducks the hard questions or tries to skate around the hard situations. When he plays lousy, he says so. That's a lost art in sports, and magic in public relations. With McIlroy, it seems to come naturally.

It helps, too, to have a pinch of leprechaun charm.

He could also be sidetracked by something more tangible — weather.

After two days of uncharacteristic warm sunshine — Friday felt like Southern California, but with humidity —tournament organizers called a news conference late Friday to say some really bad stuff was coming.

They call them "thundery showers" here, but apparently these thundery showers are going to be full of lightning and are part of a major system that may remind much of England on Saturday that all this good weather was an aberration.

The ruling Royal & Ancient is so concerned that it changed the normal schedule that has always had players teeing off only on No. 1 and tee times strung out all day. Saturday, they will start here at 9 a.m. and send players off both the first and 10th tees.

They have never done that in a British Open before, so the dark clouds must really be coming. They said that they can stay on schedule if they get five hours of delay or less. If not, Plan B is finishing Saturday's round Sunday and possibly having to finish the tournament Monday.

That being said, it may take a nor'easter to blow McIlroy out of his zone.

"I feel I'm ready for whatever conditions come," he said, "because I've practiced in links-type conditions, practiced the shots I might need in windy conditions or wet conditions or whatever it is."

If he keeps playing like he did the first two days here, he also better spend some time practicing his victory speech.

Follow Bill Dwyre on Twitter @dwyrelatimes

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