HOYLAKE, England — Rory McIlroy only saw birdies at Royal Liverpool, mostly on his scorecard, and even one pheasant that trotted across the eighth green as he was lining up a putt. That was but a minor interruption in his command performance at the British Open.

Once he made a birdie, and then another, nothing could stop him.

Not another collapse in the second round. Not anyone in the field. And certainly not Tiger Woods.

After a bogey on his opening hole stirred memories of another “Black Friday,” McIlroy looked more like the Boy Wonder who won two majors in a runaway. With three birdies in his last four holes, he posted a second consecutive 6-under 66 to build a four-shot lead over Dustin Johnson.

Puyallup’s Ryan Moore had a 68 Friday for a 6-under 138 total and is in a six-way tie for third.

McIlroy spoke of an “inner peace,” and the two secret words that triggered his powerful swing and set up birdie chances on just about every hole.

“People call it the zone, people call it whatever,” he said. “It’s just a state of mind where you think clearly. Everything seems to be on the right track. I’ve always said, whenever you play this well, you always wonder how you’ve played so badly before. And whenever you’ve played so badly, you always wonder how you play so well. I’m happy where my game is at the minute. And hopefully, I can just keep up the solid play for another couple of days.”

Woods is fortunate to even play for two more days.

He started the second round only three shots behind. He finished it on the 18th hole, standing over a 6-foot birdie putt just to avoid missing back-to-back cuts for the first time in his career. Woods made the putt for a 77.

Woods hit driver five times — four more than he hit all week when he won at Royal Liverpool in 2006. None found the fairway. Woods is 14 shots out of the lead.

“Two 66s from Rory is a bit special, but he is just that — he is a bit special,” Graeme McDowell said. “So he’s going to be tough to catch this weekend if he keeps that up.”

McIlroy was at 12-under 132 — the same 36-hole score of Woods in 2006.

Johnson birdied the last two holes for a 65, the low score of the week.

Francesco Molinari (70) was part of a large group at 6-under 138 that included Rickie Fowler (69), Sergio Garcia (70), Charl Schwartzel (67), Louis Oosthuizen (68) and Moore.

“I’m glad and I’m in the last group,” Johnson said. “Just go out there and try to shoot a big number.”

Four shots can be lost quickly in any major, especially in links golf, particularly in nasty weather that is expected over the weekend. McIlroy followed up a record-tying 63 at St. Andrews in 2010 with an 80 the following day. Even so, the ease with which he moved around Royal Liverpool was more frightening than any forecast.

McIlroy picked up his first birdie with two putts from across the green on the par-5 fifth. But it was on the par-3 sixth, when McIlroy deposited an 8-iron to 7 feet for birdie, that he found that peace and put the pedal down on the rest of the field.

He ushered the pheasant off the eighth green, regrouped and holed a 7-foot birdie, chipped to tap-in range on the 10th and then kept giving himself chances on all but one hole until ending with three birdies. McIlroy was in such a groove that with the wind at his back, he hit driver 396 yards on the 17th hole and pitched to 8 feet.

“Once I got to 7 (under), I felt like, ‘OK, this time I feel good. I can get to 8. I can get to 8, 9, 10, 11, 12.’ ”

As for those two secret words that keep McIlroy locked into what he’s doing?

“I’ll tell you on Sunday, hopefully.”

Emergency format

The British Open will use a two-tee start for the first time in the tournament’s 154-year history for the third round Saturday due to predicted heavy rain and thunderstorms.

Tee times for the threesomes start at 9 a.m. (1 a.m. Pacific time) and end at 11:01 a.m. (3:01 a.m. Pacific). That compressed schedule would allow for up to five hours of delays.

The forecast calls for deteriorating weather to begin overnight Friday, with an expected break of up to four hours late Saturday morning.

ESPN has moved up its broadcast times, starting its live coverage at 2 a.m. Pacific time.

NOTE

Cheng-Tsung Pan, a senior-to-be on the University of Washington golf team, fired his second consecutive 74 and missed the cut.

Leaderboard
After Friday’s second round at Royal Liverpool, par 72
Player Scores Par
Rory McIlroy 66-66—132 -12
Dustin Johnson 71-65—136 -8
Francisco Molinari 68-70—138 -6
Ryan Moore 70-68—138 -6
Rickie Fowler 69-69—138 -6
Sergio Garcia 68-70—138 -6
Charl Schwartzel 71-67—138 -6
Louis Oosthuizen 70-68—138 -6
Others
Phil Mickelson 74-70—144 Even
Tiger Woods 69-77—146 +2