Rory McIlroy remains in contention for his fifth major title, a feat he considered improbable after flailing through most of the first round of the Open Championship on Thursday at Royal Birkdale.
McIlroy saved his round over the final four holes Thursday and rebounded at 2-under-par 68 on Friday to comfortably stand without striking distance entering the weekend.
"To be in after two days and be under par for this championship after the way I started, I'm ecstatic with that," said McIlroy, who finished up Friday as leaders Jordan Spieth and Brooks Koepka opened on a rain-soaked, windy course playing as a diametric opposite of the dry course in calm conditions Thursday.
On the sixth tee Thursday, McIlroy said caddie J.P. Fitzgerald saw doubt creeping in for the typically confident McIlroy.
At the time, McIlroy glanced up and mumbled one word: "Whatever."
But the razzing worked and looks like a rousing success 30 holes later.
"It definitely helped, it kept me positive," McIlroy said. "He does it quite often. It's just whether it penetrates my head is a different thing. ... And he knows what to say out there and what not to say. And he definitely said the right thing (Thursday) when I needed it."
McIlroy was 5 over after nine holes but rallied on the back nine of the opening round to finish with a respectable 71.
He was even better Friday as sweater and umbrella weather returned to The Open Championship, carding birdies on three of his first six holes.
"I got off to a good start, which I think is really important today," McIlroy said. "The back nine is playing really, really difficult."
The 2014 Open champion walked off the course Friday with a score of 139 through two days, his best round in a major since the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla. McIlroy won that tournament.
"There was a lot of quality out there and I was happy to see that. Just have to try to keep that going for the next two days," McIlroy said.