HOYLAKE, England -- Rory McIlroy's second-round struggles have taken on a life of their own.
The pundits in the UK have started calling them "Freaky Fridays" and McIlroy would like nothing better than to get those words out of his head.
And there's no time like the present, particularly when the young Northern Irishman owns a one-stroke lead over Matteo Manassero at The Open Championship.
McIlroy, who opened with a bogey-free 6-under 66 at Royal Liverpool on Thursday, is averaging 72.89 in the second round to rank 181st on the PGA TOUR. He has squandered several leads on the second day, most recently at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open last week.
But there was also that "bad" Friday at Augusta National, where McIlroy barely made the cut, and he started "horrifically" -- his words, not ours -- at Quail Hollow, and another disappointing performance the following week at THE PLAYERS Championship. A three-shot lead evaporated at the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide Insurance, too, when McIlroy shot 63-78.
McIlroy, who was clearly ready for the questions on Thursday, chalks the problem up to expectations, which the two-time major champ is trying to learn to manage.
"(On Thursday), you're going out there and you're trying to find a rhythm, and you're just trying to play your way into a round," he explained. "When you go back out on Friday after a good score, you know what you can do on the golf course. So you're going out there ... with expectations compared to when on Thursday you're going out with not many."
McIlroy will play in the afternoon on Friday and given the weather that is expected, the elements themselves could be freaky. Rain early will be accompanied by winds gusting to as high as 30 mph with sea breezes complicating the equation as the day progresses.
Perhaps that will help his concentration.
"I feel like I'm well prepared this week for whatever the conditions," McIlroy said. "I've practiced in windy conditions the last few weeks. I've practiced the shots that I might need for a bad day like tomorrow might be.
"Will that help in any way? It might ... because you're really just concentrating on one shot at a time when the weather is like that."
His pursuers, however, are not counting on a McIlroy collapse. Given how well he played Thursday -- his birdies were sprinkled evenly on the two nines and accomplished with putts ranging from 4 inches to 18 feet -- McIlroy looked more like the player who ran away from the field in his two major wins than the one who's struggling in the second round.
"You've got to keep pace with a guy like Rory," said Adam Scott, who will start Friday two strokes off the pace after shooting 68. "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 what happens -- he wins majors by eight."
McIlroy would gladly take a one-stroke win on Sunday. But first he must get to the weekend unscathed.
Ernie Els three-putts for a triple-bogey 7 on No. 1 at The Open
NIGHTMARE BEGINNING: Ernie Els has one of the game's most enviable The Open Championship records. He has won the oldest major twice and finished third or better on seven occasions in his 23 previous starts.
So the 79 Els shot in Thursday's opening round was certainly uncharacteristic. But the affable South African was clearly unsettled after hitting a spectactor in the face with his approach on the first hole.
"I was thinking about him," recalled Els, who ended up three-putting the hole from about 12 inches for a 7. "There's blood all over. I was quite rattled. It wasn't nice."
Els said the ball was "like a bullet coming at him. So he must have been in total shock." Els, who said he'd hit people in the leg or the back but never head-on, ended up shooting 42 on the front nine.
"I just hope the gentleman feels better because he looked really bad when I left him there," Els said.
Tournament officials later said the spectator was not seriously injured.
Bubba Watson, who was playing with Els, said he could tell the four-time major winner was shaken up by what happened.
"You're not trying to hit a bad shot in but when you hit somebody like that it's not a good scene and it's very heartbreaking," Watson said.
BEST SOCIAL MEDIA OF THE DAY
On this day in 2005, Jack Nicklaus played his last competitive round at The Open
Wasn't going to travel 5,000 miles and not play one of these incredible courses. Great afternoon at Wallasey GC: pic.twitter.com/bALJolhE0a— Ben Crane (@bencranegolf) July 17, 2014
DISTRACTED DRIVER: Bubba Watson refused to blame anyone but himself for that triple bogey he made from the middle of the fairway on the 11th hole. He was 1 under at the time but ended up shooting a 76.
Watson said he didn't commit to the approach shot that landed under the lip of a bunker and forced him to essentially play out backwards. He acknowleged he lost focus when he noticed about 40 people in the fairway in the background of his shot.
"But there was no phone problem," Watson said. "There was no fan problem. It was just all on me. I didn't stay focused, didn't stay committed to what I was doing and it cost me dearly."
Earlier in the day, Tiger Woods had complained about hearing people -- he didn't know whether it was fans or professional photographers -- taking pictures during his round. Watson, however, said that wasn't the issue in this situation.
"No one else was having that problem," he said. "It was just me. And I just let it go on that one hole and it cost me dearly. If I had focused a little better there, I could have hit a better shot and hopefully make a bogey instead of a triple. It's one of those things."
QUOTES OF THE DAY
"I'm not some Big Time Charley who's going to win. Obviously, I want to win but I'm just there to enjoy myself and soak it all up. And they came out to enjoy it with me." -- John Singleton, a local factory worker who qualified for his first Open, on the friends and family in his gallery
"I think the weather is going to be the thing that separates the field." -- Adam Scott
"If there were three more days of sunshine and not much wind, I'd be pretty much writing myself off at the second, 8, 9 back. But with the conditions they're forecasting the next couple of days, especially tomorrow, it means I don't have to go and beat myself up today." -- Graeme McDowell, who opened with a 74
"I think we are three talented guys that work hard, so we're bound to get the results. I don't know if there's a national thing going on at all. But it's good to see three Italians up there. I'm sure it's going to be good for the kids watching up at home." -- Francesco Molinari on his brother Eduardo and Matteo Manassero, who all stand within two strokes of the lead
"I think I'm getting past that young guy stage." -- Rory McIlroy, now 25, who played with Jordan Spieth and Hideki Matsuyama, who are 20 and 22, respectively
"I set my alarm for 4:15 and I woke up naturally at 4:11, which was the right result. And I thought, should I go four more minutes? No, I got up." -- David Howell, who teed off at 6:25 a.m. in the day's first group
TOP SHOT FROM ROUND 1
Matteo Manassero’s exciting hole out on No. 1 at The Open
ODDS AND ENDS
-- Since 1975, just five first-round leaders of The Open Championship have gone on to win: Tiger Woods (2005), John Daly (1995), Greg Norman (1993), Seve Ballesteros (1988) and Tom Watson (1980). Last year at Muirfield, Zach Johnson led by a stroke after 18 holes with a 5-under 66. He finished T6.
-- McIlroy takes the 18-hole lead for the 10th time on the PGA TOUR with today’s 66. The two that resulted in victory were the 2011 U.S. Open and 2012 BMW Championship. He held a 2-stroke lead after 18 holes at the 2010 Open Championship, but finished T3.
-- World No. 1 Adam Scott opened with a 4-under 68 in his 15th Open Championship appearance. He finished T8 in the last Open at Royal Liverpool, in 2006. He finished second in the 2012 Open Championship and T3 last year.
-- Jim Furyk shot 68. He also opened with a 4-under 68 at the 2006 Open at Royal Liverpool en route to fourth-place honors.
-- Last week’s Scottish Open champion Justin Rose carded an opening-round, even-par 72. His lone top-10 finish at the event remains a T4 in his inaugural start in 1998. Rose missed last year’s Open Championship cut at Muirfield, following rounds of 75-77.
-- Of the 37 first timers at the Open Championship in 2014, Kristoffer Broberg, David Hearn and amateur Ashley Chesters enjoyed the best opening round (70).
-- Eighteen players posted rounds in the 60s on Thursday. By comparison, the largest number of rounds in the 60s during a first round at The Open Championship is 50 (Turnberry, 2009).
Category Leader(s) Statistic Driving accuracy H. Stenson 13 of 14 fairways (92.9 percent) Greens in regulation J. Dufner, E. Molinari, P. Casey 16 of 18 greens (88.9 percent) Fewest putts R. Gibson, M. Warren, R. Castro 25 putts Scrambling R. Castro 9 ups-and-down Total birdies B. Koepka, M. Manassero 7 birdies Bogey-free rounds R. Moore (70) , T. Bjorn (70), R. McIlroy (66) Low Round R. McIlroy 66 Hole stats Hardest hole Par-4 7th 4.429 strokes Easiest hole Par-5 10th 4.590 strokes
Rory McIIroy fires a bogey-free 66 to lead The Open