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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Rory McIlroy cannot wait to take on leader Jordan Spieth at halfway mark of British Open

Northern Irishman tied for sixth place in season's third major tournament.

Rory McIlroy seems to be overcoming his early struggles at the British Open this year. Hannah McKay / Reuters
Rory McIlroy seems to be overcoming his early struggles at the British Open this year. Hannah McKay / Reuters

Rory McIlroy is relishing the prospect of doing battle for a second British Open title as Jordan Spieth looked to join him in pursuit of a career grand slam.

McIlroy added a 68 to his opening 71 on Friday to lie five shots off the pace set by Spieth, who defied strong winds and torrential rain - which led to a short suspension in play in late afternoon - to finish six under par.

Spieth, who would join McIlroy in having won three of the game's four majors with victory at Royal Birkdale on Sunday, held a two-shot lead over Ryder Cup teammate Matt Kuchar, with England's Ian Poulter on three under alongside US Open champion Brooks Koepka.

"Jordan and Brooks are two of the best players in the world at the moment and I can't wait to do battle with them," said McIlroy, who needs to win the Masters to complete a career grand slam.

McIlroy, 28, had been five over par after six holes of his first round and seemed destined for a fourth missed cut in five events until a stern talking to from caddie JP Fitzgerald prompted a back-nine rally.

Pin positions for Round 3

The world No 4 came home in 32 with three birdies in the last four holes and maintained that momentum on Friday with birdies on the first, third and sixth taking him to the turn in 31.

That was an eight-shot improvement on Thursday and although he dropped shots on the 13th and 15th, a birdie on the 17th helped McIlroy climb into a tie for sixth with Richard Bland, Austin Connelly and Gary Woodland.

"To be in after two days and be under par for this championship after the way I started, I'm ecstatic with that," McIlroy said. "I just wanted to continue with that good feeling from the last few holes [on Thursday] and went out with that positivity and trust in myself and just need to keep that for the next two days. I cant wait."

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Spieth gave himself nine out of 10 following an opening 65, but he conceded he needed some good luck to post a halfway total of 134, matching the record in an Open at Birkdale set by Craig Stadler in 1983.

"I give myself a B grade today," Spieth said. "I got pretty frustrated through the turn, hitting it into pot bunker after pot bunker and squeaking out pars somehow, but I thought we did a good job after the horn blew.

"It couldn't have been better timing and I could play the last eight holes almost as a new round. I didn't get everything I could out of yesterday's round and I got more than what I deserved today."

That included a mis-hit fairway wood on the 15th which got just a few feet off the ground, but ended up 15 feet from the hole to set up an eagle for the 2015 Masters and US Open champion.

"We've been here before and we're not going for the first major, but it is the first Open and I'd be lying if I said I won't feel plenty of nerves," added Spieth, who missed out on a play-off at St Andrews in 2015 by a single shot.

"But we've been moving in the right direction and I believe we can do this."

Seventy-seven players made the halfway cut at five over par, with just nine players under par.