Brian Harman's second round 65 took him five shots clear of the field
THE OPEN: HARMAN SURGES FIVE SHOTS CLEAR AT HOYLAKE
Brian Harman will take the joint-biggest half-way lead at The Open for 89 years into the weekend after the American shot a course record 65 at Royal Liverpool to seize control of The 151st Open.
Sitting one shot off the leaders heading into the second day, Harman proceeded to notch four consecutive birdies after a par at the first to move clear of the field. An eagle-three at the last capped off a bogey-free 65, to take the left-handed American to 10-under-par, five shots clear of Tommy Fleetwood.
In the five previous Opens at Royal Liverpool since World War II, only Roberto De Vicenzo did not lead at the halfway stage, and none were as far clear as Harman. But the American has not won a tournament in six years, and has only previous experience of leading a major, holding a one-stroke advantage at the US Open in 2017 before finishing tied second behind Brooks Koepka.
Fleetwood looks best-placed to challenge, but like everyone else bar Harman, he had his ups and downs on his way to a 71.
Harman’s impressive round was marked by some excellent work on the greens, with the left-hander holing out time and again, before two brilliant chips, one at the 5th to set up a birdie, and another straight in at 12 to save par.
Harman finished off with a stunning eagle at the par-five last to complete one of just two bogey-free rounds of the day, with the second being added by Henrik Stenson, and is now in pole position to become only the third left-hander to lift the Claret Jug, after Bob Charles in 1963 and Phil Mickelson in 2013.
Unsurprisingly though, Harman is not counting his chickens, particularly given how long he has waited to taste victory since claiming the Wells Fargo Championship in 2017. He said: “I’m just trying not to get too caught up in it. It’s just golf. I’ve probably – I think when I held the 54-hole lead at the US Open, I just probably thought about it too much. I just didn’t focus on getting sleep and eating right. So that would be my focus this weekend. I have a very active mind. It’s hard for me – I’ve always struggled with trying to predict the future and trying to forecast what’s going to happen. I’ve just tried to get really comfortable just not knowing.”
If the pressure does get to Harman over the weekend, then Fleetwood is still the man poised to take advantage as he hung in with the support of the Royal Liverpool crowds. Three bogeys were cancelled out by as many birdies in a 71 that leaves him in solo second place and joining Harman in the final group on Saturday.
Jordan Spieth looked like he might join Fleetwood in second at one point, with three birdies in the first six holes, but his back nine saw him drop back to two-under where he had started the day. That is one better than Rory McIlroy, whose birdie at the last should give him some momentum, even if he starts the weekend nine shots back from Harman.
Austria’s Sepp Straka shot a second round 67 to sit third, while India’s Shubhankar Sharma celebrated his 27th birthday in style with a fine 71, enough to sit T4, where he was joined by Jason Day and Min Woo Lee, who shot 67 and 68 respectively.
In tricky conditions, the cut was set at three-over, with a host of big names battling to make it. Overnight leader Christo Lamprecht, the South African amateur, found his second Open round rather trickier than his first, with eight bogeys on his way to a 79. But despite dropping a shot at the last, he did just enough to secure weekend golf, and as the only amateur to do so, he is set to claim the Silver Medal.
The other ‘good news’ story from Thursday was Royal Liverpool member Matthew Jordan’s impressive 69 after hitting the very first tee shot. He was never in danger of missing the cut as he continued to look comfortable in home conditions, finishing one-over for the day thanks in large part to a double bogey at 17, but one-under for the tournament.
Two-time Open champion Padraig Harrington was another to finish the right side of the cut line, with birdies on 12 and 16 enough for the Irishman to finish on three-over, with Brooks Koepka also sneaking through despite making a double-bogey seven on the last.
It did not look as though world number one Scottie Scheffler would be joining them, but a sensational bunker shot on 18 set him up for the birdie he needed to keep his Open alive. And last year’s winner Cam Smith produced an even better shot with his approach on 18 for an eagle that also saw him make it through to the weekend on two-over.
The best shot of the day belonged to Travis Smyth, however, who made history with the first-ever hole-in-one on the new 17th. His ace at ‘Little Eye’ was in stark contrast to the previous day’s double bogey and was the perfect consolation as he missed the cut by five shots.
Other bigger name players to miss out on the weekend included Collin Morikawa (+4), Justin Rose (+6), Shane Lowry (+7), Phil Mickelson (+9), Justin Thomas (+11), and Dustin Johnson (+13).
The weekend weather forecast is not looking too promising, with strong winds and heavy rain due to hit the Wirral area for much of Saturday and Sunday, ensuring that the 76 players that made the cut are set for a challenging 36 holes before the winner of the year’s final major is crowned.