Leader McIlroy under attack from Fowler
American Rickie Fowler is breathing down Rory McIlroy's neck at the 2014 Open Championship.
LONDON - Rory McIlroy's grip on the Open loosened on Saturday as he suffered a jittery start to his second round and American Rickie Fowler launched a barrage of birdies.
The Northern Irishman began the day four shots clear but after bogeying the opening hole and struggling to fire on all cylinders on a soggy Royal Liverpool course, his lead was cut to one by a charging Fowler.
Fowler, who finished in the top five in the year's first two majors, began with two birdies and picked up further shots on the fifth, sixth and 10th before rolling in a monster putt at the 11th to reach 11 under par.
McIlroy responded with a birdie on the 11th to move two clear but Fowler had the bit between his teeth and birdied the 12th to keep breathing down his neck.
Fellow American Dustin Johnson began the day as McIlroy's closest challenger and birdied the first after a stunning wedge approach to halve the deficit but his challenge faded as he leaked shots in the rain.
Spain's Sergio Garcia improved to nine under, three off the lead, after recovering from a dropped shot at the first where he visited two green side bunkers.
Garcia, who has seven top-10 finishes at the Open but has never won a major, birdied the second, fifth, eighth and ninth to reach the turn in 32.
Scoring conditions were perfect as torrential rain which forced organisers to use two-tee starts for the first time ever in the Open third round dampened down the fairways and softened the greens.
There was barely a breath of wind as play commenced on both the first and 10th tees with players bunched in threes rather than twos in order to ensure that the tournament remained on schedule should the grim weather forecasts prove correct.
McIlroy sunk a tricky eight-foot par putt on the second and also parred the next two holes to steady his nerves before his first birdie of the day at the par-five fifth.
The twice major champion was in trouble after driving into a the rough at the long par-four seventh.
After chopping out on to the fairway he pitched into the green and rattled in a brave par putt to put distance between himself and Johnson, who bogeyed.
Thousands of fans flooded to England's northwest coast to watch the action, despite risk of thunderstorms, and they were rewarded with birdies galore.
Frenchman Victor Dubuisson and American veteran Jim Furyk were both three under for the round as they moved down the inward nine six shots off the pace.
Tiger Woods, starting 10 shots adrift on the 10th tee, birdied his opening two holes to give the crowd cowering under waterproofs plenty to cheer.
2011 champion Darren Clarke displayed his links golf pedigree with a superb five-under round of 67 to take a share of the clubhouse lead with Graeme McDowell. Both are five-under par and will harbour outside hopes of a fourth day charge.