HOYLAKE, England - Rory McIlroy did what he was supposed to do in the opening round of the British Open: Take the lead.
Now can he avoid doing what everyone expects him to do -- fall apart in the second round?
McIlroy had a brilliant six-birdie, no-bogey, 6-under-par 66 on a Thursday of beautiful weather at Royal Liverpool Golf Club and would seem to be in great position to add a third major to his 2011 U.S. Open and 2012 PGA Championship.
But in majors and non-majors -- including last weekend's Scottish Open, when he shot a 78 -- the 25-year-old from Northern Ireland has developed a habit of falling apart on Day 2.
At the Masters this year, McIlroy followed a 71 with a 77. At the Memorial, he followed a 63 with a 78. Six times in his last eight tournaments, he has had a nine-hole score of 40 or higher on Friday that has taken him out of the mix.
"I just have to go out and hit some good shots on the first holes to give me confidence," he said Thursday. "I had a bad Friday at Augusta, then Quail Hollow [Wells Fargo], then did the same thing at [The Players]. Three tournaments in a row. That's when I was conscious of it."
Matteo Manassero of Italy, with seven birdies, was a shot back of McIlroy, who on Friday, with wild weather predicted, has an afternoon starting time.
Seven golfers, including Sergio Garcia, Adam Scott, Jim Furyk and Italian brothers Edoardo and Francesco Molinari, are two shots back at 4 under. Tiger Woods, playing in his first major this year, is among nine golfers who shot 3-under 69.
Justin Rose shot 72. Defending champ Phil Mickelson had a 74 that included a bogey at 18 when the ball bounced into an area marked out of bounds -- even though it's on the members' practice range.
U.S. Open champ Martin Kaymer had a 73 and Masters winner Bubba Watson had a 76.
McIlroy was in front the first day of the 2010 Open at St. Andrews with a 63 and then -- trapped in winds strong enough to suspend play for an hour -- he had an 80 on Friday. "But," he said, "[I] finished third that year."
He said his plan, as the cliché goes, is to play one shot at a time and not worry about the big picture. "Maybe I go out on a Friday with higher expectations because I shot a low round," he said. "I will try to put those expectations aside."
Unfulfilled expectations in the big tournaments have been the story of Garcia's career. Garcia, 34, has done virtually everything but win a major.
The last time the Open was at Royal Liverpool, 2006, he was in the final twosome with Woods. Woods won, of course; Garcia was fifth. The next year, 2007, at Carnoustie, Garcia led into the last round and lost a playoff to Padraig Harrington.
Garcia's 68 yesterday duplicated his start here eight years ago, but he was wary of thinking this finally might be his time to break through.
"There's so many things that can happen out there," Garcia said. In 1999, he chased Woods down to the final hole of the PGA at Medinah. "It would be nice to put myself into a position to have a solid chance on Sunday," he said.
McIlroy, who is 55 under par in the first rounds of tournaments around the world this year, and everyone else are thinking the same thing.