Hoylake, United Kingdom – Rory McIlroy took a one shot lead into Friday's second round of the British Open, set on avoiding the kind of Friday flop that has bedevilled him all year.
The 25-year-old Irishman was in splendid form on Thursday when low-scoring and attacking golf were the order of the day given the perfect playing conditions.
He carded a six-under 66 to lead by one stroke from Italy's Matteo Manassero with seven players on four under 68.
These included Italian brothers Francesco and Edoardo Molinari, Americans Brooks Koepka and Jim Furyk, Sergio Garcia of Spain, Ireland's Shane Lowry and world number one Adam Scott.
Fit-again Tiger Woods was one of nine players on three under after five birdies down the back nine provided the surest sign yet that he can still compete at the top level.
McIlroy has made it a habit this year of going low in the opening round before slumping badly on the Friday, most recently at last week's Scottish Open where he shot a course record 64 only to take a 78 the next day.
But this is the first time he has led after the first round of a major since the 2011 US Open. On that occasion he powered away from the field to win his first major title by eight shots.
All the signs were green for 4/1 tournament favourite McIlroy at Royal Liverpool on Friday with his mid-afternoon tee-time set to get the best of the day's weather.
Scott, who could have matched McIlroy on Thursday were it not for a disappointing finish is wary of his rival's ability to destroy the field.
“You've got to keep pace with a guy like Rory,” the Australian said.
“He has the potential to really put his foot down. I've seen him shoot lots of low rounds and there's nothing stopping him from doing that tomorrow either.
“I don't want him running away. We've seen that happen. Wins majors by eight.”
For Woods, playing in just his second tournament since back surgery in late March, the challenge is firstly to make it through to the weekend, something he did not achieve at Congressional last month in his return to action.
There were clear signs on Thursday that the confidence was surging back into his game and he was understandaly upbeat after his round.
“I felt good about a lot of things that I did out there today,” he said.
“Especially coming back after that start I had (two bogeys in first two holes), to fight myself back into the championship. I feel pretty good about it.”
Other big names were less enthused by their play but still lurked just off the leaderboard such as world number two and number three Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose (both 72), US Open champion Martin Kaymer (73) and defending champion Phil Mickelson (74).
Open champion Ernie Els, meanwhile, was facing an uphill struggle to make the cut after a disastrous opening round of 79. – Sapa-AFP