For a Friday evening spell, as shadows lengthened and flags sat limp on the Kent coast, it became a question of how many players Louis Oosthuizen could knock out of the 149th Open Championship.
The unflappable South African, seeking to shake off a nearly man tag, was within touching distance of history. With every putt that dropped, those in the nether regions of the field saw hopes of Claret Jug glory diminish. That Oosthuizen did not quite press home advantages offered by benign conditions means hope springs eternal on the remainder of the leaderboard.
Still, Oosthuizen is already in the record books. His 129 shots – 64, 65 – beats the previous best over the first 36 holes of this championship by one. It is within one of the finest Friday night score in any major. It is just that things looked as if they could be so much better for Oosthuizen as he eagled the 14th to move to 12 under par. He instead closed one stroke shy of that mark on account of a bogey at the 16th, his only scorecard blemish of this Open so far.
“I’m in a good position,” said Oosthuizen with typical understatement. “The game is good, but I know it’s a really good leaderboard. I have to play good golf this weekend if I want to come out first. Around this golf course, a lot of things can happen. I don’t think you want to think too much about winning on a links course until you get to that 18th green, and hopefully you have a lead.”
The perception of Oosthuizen as not having delivered on promise is in part strange, given he won the Open – at St Andrews no less – in emphatic fashion 11 years ago. Still, he has finished second or tied second another half dozen times in majors. Had this run instead been of victories, Oosthuizen would have more major wins on his CV than Nick Faldo. Instead, he is looking to edge clear of Todd Hamilton and Jason Dufner.
Oosthuizen leads Collin Morikawa by two. Morikawa is seeking to become the first man to win both the US PGA and Open Championships on his debut.
Morikawa’s 64 was delivered long before Oosthuizen profited from a calm backdrop. One stroke better and Morikawa would have matched the course record; not that he was any the wiser.
“I’m awful with golf history,” Morikawa said “I did not know 63 was the low score out here. I just kind of came out and played golf. I want to create my own memories.”
Jordan Spieth can draw on positive major experiences of his own. A 67 moved the Texan to eight under par. “I need to bring some more food on to the golf course tomorrow,” Spieth said. “I got into a really weird head space and liked fatigued from the 13th onwards.”
Spieth lies clear of the marauding Dylan Frittelli, Dustin Johnson and Scottie Scheffler. A 65 from Johnson, the world No 1, looked especially notable. So, too, Brooks Koepka’s 66 to move him to minus five. Paul Casey is on the same mark as Koepka. “I’m very, very happy with where I stand right now,” said Casey.
Shane Lowry, the defending champion, went round in 65 to move firmly into contention at four under. “I needed to go out there and shoot a decent number,” Lowry said. “I played lovely golf, put myself on the fairway then gave myself chances from there.”
This major is not the sole domain of big names. Daniel van Tonder, Emiliano Grillo, Marcel Siem, Andy Sullivan and Justin Harding are six under. Siem’s story is the most noteworthy; he lost full European Tour status after a dismal run of form, with victory on the Challenge Tour last weekend sealing this surprise Open berth.
“I’m coming from nowhere and I will definitely try my best to compete but I can’t give any predictions,” said Siem. “My daughter told me, ‘Daddy, you have to win this week as well.’” Ah, childhood innocence.
There was an endearing moment, too, for Jonathan ‘Jigger’ Thomson as he produced a hole-in-one at the 16th. “It was awesome,” he said. At 6ft 9in, it is a wonder Thompson doesn’t have bother picking his ball out of the hole.
He will do so for another 36 holes; the ace was key to him making the cut.
Among those to exit stage left were Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Francesco Molinari and Darren Clarke.
Rory McIlroy sits back at even par after back-to-back 70’s.
The Northern Irishman remains well short of his free-flowing best, as he seems to know only too well. “Right now I’m just trying to play my own game and not even look at the board,” McIlroy said. Changed days; for the time being, at least.