Rory McIlroy has it figured out for weekend assault on Open

Rory McIlroy said before the British Open began that two level-par rounds of 70 would suit him just fine...

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland  at the 2011 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club April 10, 2011 in Augusta, Georgia. Picture: AFP.

Rory McIlroy said before the British Open began that two level-par rounds of 70 would suit him just fine and while his arithmetic was slightly out the Northern Irishman heads into the weekend at Royal St George's right where he wanted to be.

As it transpired, his 140 total comprised a grafting opening-round 71 followed by an impressive 69 in tricky conditions Friday and the 22-year-old favourite is four shots off the lead in one of the tightest British Opens for many years.

A tremendous up-and-down from a plugged lie in a greenside bunker on the 18th could yet prove the catalyst for the U.S. Open champion to win back-to-back majors.

"It was huge. I put myself under a lot of pressure to hole that putt," McIlroy said of his four at the 18th which completed a round in which he often threatened a charge but was held in check by a rock-hard course and tricky pin positions.

"I thought it was going to be a big putt for me, and (it) makes me feel pretty good headed into the weekend."

Moments such as that often prove pivotal in majors and the young man from across the <place w:st="on">Irish Sea looked relaxed as he cast his mind ahead to what promises to be an intriguing weekend where rain and wind are expected to thicken the plot.

"It would have been nicer to be a couple better, but I'll take that going into the weekend," said McIlroy, who has reached the halfway stage with his hopes intact, unlike fellow Britons world number one Luke Donald and number two Lee Westwood who are both packing their bags.

"I'm very happy with my position and to be within striking distance of the leaders.

"Even though it was sunny and it looked nice out there, it was very tricky. The course is playing a lot firmer, a lot of cross-winds, and to shoot something in the 60s today I'm very pleased with."

HUGE GALLERIES

An inspired McIlroy reduced the field to also-rans at Congressional last month when he cantered to his first major by an eight-shot margin but the glint in his eye Friday suggested he was relishing being in the thick of a weekend scrap in which 50 players will fancy their chances.

"I think you'll see a lot of chopping and changing at the top of the leaderboard," the world number four said.

"I said it's the most open Open I've seen in a long time. I think it'll be exciting to be a part of and it'll be exciting to watch over the next two days.

"Four shots in 36 holes on this golf course in these conditions is nothing."

Once again McIlroy attracted huge galleries Friday as he played with fellow 22-year-old Rickie Fowler of the <country-region w:st="on"><place w:st="on">United States</country-region> and former Open champion Ernie Els.

He began his second round with a run of five pars before consecutive birdies at the par-three sixth and par-five seventh took him under par for the first time in the tournament.

Bogeys either side of the turn stalled his progress but he rolled in a six-foot birdie at the 13th and raised more roars from the sun-blasted fans at the par-five 14th when he again moved under par.

At the 15th he found a bunker off the tee and failed to sink a long par putt but he avoided any more damage in the run-in to walk off 18 eying a weekend charge.

"If I get off to a decent start tomorrow I'm right in it," he said.