SOUTHPORT, England (Reuters) - Rory McIlroy's swagger returned in the British Open second round on Friday as the world number four shot a superb 68 in brutal conditions to move within four shots of the overnight leaders.
The Northern Irishman started his opening round poorly before battling back to post a 71 and he mastered fierce crosswinds to pick up three birdies in the first six holes of round two at Royal Birkdale.
After bogeying the 13th and 15th, McIlroy calmly rolled in an eight-foot birdie putt at the 17th and finished at one under par to stay firmly in contention to win his fifth major title.
"To be under-par for this championship after the way I started, I'm ecstatic with that," the 28-year-old told reporters. "I think anything around even par today is going to be a great score.
"I got off to a good start, which I think is important today. The back nine is playing really, really difficult. So to birdie three of the first six and give myself that little bit of a cushion to play with was nice."
McIlroy has endured a frustrating season as he struggled to cope with a rib injury and he was not among the favourites before the tournament to secure a second British Open victory.
He cut a dejected figure after slumping to five over par after six holes on Thursday, but the spring has clearly returned to his step.
"I was very proud of myself that I hung in there and tried to stay as positive as I possibly could," he said.
"I just had to turn it around. I had to find a couple of little key thoughts, and I feel like I have. I'll try to keep those in my head going forward the next couple of days."
Editing by Robin Pomeroy