Rory McIlroy clamped a stranglehold on the British Open on Friday with a second straight round of 66 which left him four strokes clear of the field going into the weekend.
Seeking his first Open title after two major wins in the United States, McIlroy was imperious as he held at bay a chasing pack of the highest calibre and then calmly pulled away.
By the end of another enthralling day at the Royal Liverpool links, the 25-year-old from Northern Ireland was 12-under for the tournament, four shots clear of American Dustin Johnson, who had a 65, the best round of the tournament so far.
Two strokes further back were two more Americans, Ryan Moore (68) and Rickie Fowler (69), alongside Edoardo Molinari of Italy (70), Sergio Garcia of Spain (70) and South Africans Charl Schwartzel (67) and Louis Oosthuizen (68).
“I played really well, overall another really, really good day,” McIlroy said.
“I have been lucky enough to have this feeling at majors before and hopefully I will be able to do it again. It gives me a lot of confidence.
“I haven’t been in this position before in an Open championship, though I feel really in control of my golf game.”
McIlroy’s overnight one stroke lead vanished almost instantly as he overhit his approach to the first for a bogey.
It was the first shot he had dropped in the tournament and the only mistake he made all day.
He was then joined on five under by Italians Matteo Manassero and Francesco Molinari, Brooks Koepka of the United States and Garcia, who eagled the par four second.
But McIlroy, striking the ball beautifully again, had back-to-back birdies at five and six to move two strokes clear of the field.
He then tamed the par-five 10th to go three clear before missing shortish birdie putts at the 11th and 12th which would have put him five clear had he made them.
No-one though was applying any real pressure on the tournament favourite and he made them pay for that with further birdies at the 15th, 17th and the last.
He could have led by six strokes, but Johnson birdied his final two holes to hold onto the Irishman’s coattails.
It was all so reminiscent of the Congressional Club three years ago, when McIlroy came of age by leading wire-to-wire to win the US Open, his first major, by eight strokes.