Louis Oosthuizen set a 36-hole record at the British Open and is halfway to ending that run of near misses at the majors.
Now all he has to do is hold off a cast of major champions on the weekend at Royal St. George’s.
On a day of pleasant summer weather that took the fear out of the links off Sandwich Bay, Oosthuizen broke away from a three-way tie with a birdie-birdie-eagle run from the 12th hole. He shrugged off his first bogey of the week for a 5-under 65 and a two-stroke lead on Friday.
Former PGA champion Collin Morikawa had a 64 in the morning and was two shots behind. Another shot back was Jordan Spieth (67), going after his fourth major.
Lurking was two-time major champion Dustin Johnson, the No. 1 player in the world who shot 65 and was tied for fourth, four strokes behind Oosthuizen.
“The game is good, but I know it’s a really good leaderboard,” Oosthuizen said. “I’ll have to play good golf this weekend if I want to come out first.”
Oosthuizen, looking as calm as the conditions, was at 11-under 129, breaking the 36-hole Open record first set by Nick Faldo in 1992 at Muirfield and matched by Brandt Snedeker in 2012 at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.
This will be the fifth time in the last nine rounds at a major that Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion at St. Andrews, has had at least a share of the lead. He was runner-up at the last two majors, to Phil Mickelson at the the PGA Championship in May and to Jon Rahm the U.S. Open last month.
“I’m not really going to think about the second spots,” said Oosthuizen, when asked what he’ll do differently this time. “I know my game is in a good place.”
He’ll also be aware of the quality of player behind him, though.
Morikawa, making quite a debut in links golf, made seven birdies in his first 14 holes as part of a clinic in iron play. He missed a 5-foot par putt on No. 15 — ending a 27-hole stretch without a bogey — and had a 10-foot birdie putt on the final hole catch the lip.
Spieth, four shots behind Morikawa when he teed off, was tied for the lead after 12 holes and then played the last six holes in 1 over, a stretch he described as “frustrating.” He had plenty of looks at birdie, but the putts didn’t drop like they did on Thursday.
“I don’t know, I think I need to bring more food on the golf course tomorrow,” said Spieth, who has already lifted the claret jug before at Royal Birkdale in 2017. “I got really just in a weird head space, like fatigued there on like the 13th green as we were waiting and hitting putts.”
Then there was Johnson, a runner-up at Royal St. George’s in 2011, who stuck his approach at the last to 3 feet for a birdie and a round of 65, which left him at 7 under with Dylan Frittelli of South Africa (67) and Scottie Scheffler (66).
The weather is expected to stay benign over the weekend, potentially favoring Johnson if the fairways firm up and the ball runs longer and faster.
“I feel like I’m in a good position heading into the weekend,” he said.
One shot behind an eclectic mix of players at 6 under — including two more South Africans in Justin Harding and Daniel Van Tonder as well as Germany’s Marcel Siem, who qualified from a second-tier Challenge Tour event last week — were Rahm (64) and Brooks Koepka.
Koepka, a four-time major winner and seemingly always in contention at golf’s biggest events, made four birdies in his last five holes for a 66, then continued his petty feud with Bryson DeChambeau with perhaps the best shot of his round.
During a television interview, Koepka said he was driving it great, adding: “I love my driver” — a clear nod at DeChambeau, who complained on Thursday that his driver “sucks.”
DeChambeau doesn’t look like being a factor this weekend at Royal St. George’s but he’s sticking around after shooting a 70, which saw him make the cut on the number at 1 over.
Rory McIlroy will be, too, needing a birdie on the final hole for another 70. He was 11 shots behind and set to stay on four majors until 2022.
“That’s sort of been the way for the last couple months,” McIlroy said. “It’s felt close, but it just hasn’t quite been close enough.”
Other big names weren’t so lucky: No. 7 Patrick Cantlay, No. 9 Patrick Reed and former Open champions Francesco Molinari and Henrik Stenson were among those headed home.
A sign of the favorable weather that has confronted the world’s best players this week — there was barely a drop of wind at times on Friday — is the fact the cut was at 1-over 141. The previous lowest cut at Royal St. George’s was 143.