But McIlroy had a feeling this kind of performance was on its way. He said so last week at the Scottish Open. He said so earlier this week. But given his Freaky Fridays (64-78 during the first two rounds of the Scottish), who knew what to believe.
Tiger Woods believed.
"It's not a surprise," Woods said. "He's done this before. He's won both of his majors by 8 [shots]. When he gets going, he can make a lot of birdies. And he plays pretty aggressively to begin with. When he's going, he can get it going pretty good."
You should have seen McIlroy after the round. He looked as stressed as someone getting a mani-pedi. He wanted to lead this tournament. He expected to lead this tournament. That's empowering stuff.
Nothing bothered him. Not the media vigil to see if he'd implode Friday. Not the pressures of leading a major. And not a pheasant that decided to strut across the eighth green as McIlroy prepared to putt. McIlroy was so unnerved that he sank the putt for birdie.
"I haven't run into that before on the golf course," he said. "I might have had a swan or duck or geese or something, but never a pheasant."
During the entire week, McIlroy has tried to keep it simple. He isn't overthinking a thing.
"I've got a couple little words, trigger words, that I'm using this week, that I sort of keep telling myself in my head when I'm ... around the golf course -- when I'm just about to hit it, go into a shot."
Someone asked what the words were.
McIlroy didn't overthink the answer.
"I'll tell you on Sunday, hopefully," he said.