The South African retained his lead but a host of major winners have moved into contention
By the time Louis Oosthuizen’s eagle putt gathered pace on the 14th green, meandering down a treacherous slope with nonchalant swagger, it had long become clear that the South African’s stranglehold over this Open Championship would remain in glorious tact.
The 2010 champion’s remarkable opening 36 holes have left a sunburnt Royal St George’s under the shadow of constant siege, with 12 birdies repelled by just a single blemish, and the prospect of a wire-to-wire victory is by no means far-fetched.
But as tame as Oosthuizen has made this links appear, setting a new Open scoring record for the halfway stage, there remains a renowned pack of contenders clawing at his coattails, led by two formidable former major champions in Collin Morikawa and Jordan Spieth. They will guarantee an exhaustive inspection of Oosthuizen’s nerves over the course of the weekend, particularly when taking into account the burden of six second-place finishes the 38-year-old has suffered since lifting the Claret Jug at St Andrews.
“To have any record at the Open or part of any record at the Open is always very special,” he said afterwards. “I think I’ve played really good the last two days. I probably played a bit better yesterday in the conditions we were playing in, but today we got really – I would say lucky sort of the last nine holes. It was as good a weather as you can get playing this golf course.”
Oosthuizen had seen his slender overnight lead resoundingly shattered before he’d even finished warming up on Friday morning after Morikawa produced a faultless exhibition of iron play to match the South African’s opening 64 and take temporary hostage at the top of the leaderboard. But that development did nothing to deter Oosthuizen’s momentum as he started with a birdie at the first hole. The wind did bare its teeth in gusts, but largely serene conditions led to a sprawl of birdies throughout the field and Oosthuizen capitalised at the seventh and eleventh to reassert his advantage. That was then emphatically consolidated by his spectacular eagle at the 14th and, despite dropping a shot after finding the bunker at the 16th, his first bogey had been sandwiched by two brilliant saves that showed he could absorb the first real strains of pressure.
A fine chance for birdie at the 18th did dribble weakly low of the hole, though, which means Morikawa will start just two shots back in the final group. Spieth is one further adrift, after a round of typical ingenuity and turbulence, with three birdies and a bogey in his opening four holes. There can be no disputing that the shackles of his slump have been firmly shaken, though, after the four-time major champion backed up his opening round of 65 with a 67, and several spurned opportunities promise a firmer push over the course of the weekend.
Another frontier of fierce contenders lies a rung further back but are certainly still within reach. Dustin Johnson, the world No 1, who finished second at Royal St George’s in 2011, is four behind after a stunning round of 65. Brooks Koepka is lurking, too, after a hat-trick of birdies at the death saw him leap to five under par. He still found time to stoke his animosity with Bryson DeChambeau, too, highlighting his efficiency with the driver in reference to his rival’s bizarre outburst on Thursday. DeChambeau had claimed he was living on a “razor’s edge” due to the technical deficiency of his biggest weapon and he trod an equally thin line to squeeze into the weekend at one-over-par.
There were few major casualties of the cut aside from Tyrrell Hatton, whose fits of rage are likely to invite a fine from the R&A. England’s best-ranked player berated a hideous lie beside the 11th green as “absolute f****** b*******” after making double-bogey and later decapitated his gap wedge with a wild stamp after a poor approach into the 18th green. There remains a few faint hopes of an end to a 52-year wait for an English winner on home soil, though, with Andy Sullivan and Paul Casey both on the top page of the leaderboard.
But for the time being, it is not just a scoreline but a gulf in class that separates them from the leaders. Oosthuizen, Morikawa and Spieth have navigated the first half of this Open with unwavering brilliance, and the weekend certainly promises a series of twists worthy of matching the undulating maze that is Royal St George’s.