J.B. Holmes and Shane Lowry share the 36-hole lead at the 148th Open Championship, but they’ve got their work cut out for themselves with a strong pack of contenders at the top of the leaderboard at Royal Portrush. One stroke behind the 8-under pace set by Holmes and Lowry is a pair England’s finest on opposite ends of the experience spectrum both chasing their first major in Tommy Fleetwood and Lee Westwood.
After that, things get pretty intimidating with some heavy-hitters less than a handful of strokes off the pace. Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth and Justin Rose are all among the group within three strokes of the lead. One shot back from them stands Tony Finau, Patrick Reed, Jon Rahm and Matt Kuchar. Dustin Johnson and Xander Schauffele had two of the best rounds of the day and made major moves up the leaderboard to enter Saturday within five strokes of the lead, right there with Rickie Fowler, Henrik Stenson, Webb Simpson and more.
What Holmes and Lowry have done through two days of work at Royal Portrush has been impressive, but if they are able to hold off a group of contenders with this kind of star power, it’s going to truly be a special accomplishment to be named Champion Golfer of the Year.
Friday’s action was particularly notable for two of golf’s best ever struggling and eventually missing the cut. Three-time Open champion Tiger Woods and 2013 Open champion Phil Mickelson have played in 83 major championships together during their Hall of Fame careers and this year’s Open marks the first in which both players have failed to make the cut in the same event. Both players are still going to be active in the FedEx Cup Playoffs, but it is disappointing to say farewell Tiger and Phil chasing majors until Augusta in April 2020.
The day concluded with a furious charge by betting and local favorite Rory McIlroy to make the cut, an effort that fell short in the final holes. McIlroy tied for round of the day with a 65, but it wasn’t enough to make it to the weekend. Here’s how the leaderboard looks heading into Sunday at Royal Portrush:
T1. J.B. Holmes (-8): While Holmes did arrive to the finale of the major schedule off missed cuts at both the PGA Championship and the U.S. Open, his contention and strong play shouldn’t come as a surprise. Five months ago, Holmes showed championship-caliber form as he chased down Justin Thomas to win the Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club.
T1. Shane Lowry (-8): An unsettling conclusion to Lowry’s second round sets the stage for a very intriguing final pairing appearance. Lowry played his final eight holes at 2-over par with no birdies after carding 11 birdies in his first 18 holes. It’s important for him to get off to another hot start if for no other reason than to flush out a disappointing finish to Friday.
T3. Tommy Fleetwood (-7): A steady consistency seemed to be the theme of Fleetwood’s Thursday, and it was followed by a little more action in Round 2. Fleetwood had six birdies and two bogeys in his round of 67 to finish the day one shot off the lead.
T3. Lee Westwood (-7): After 11 top-five finishes in major championships, Westwood is putting together his best shot at winning his first since the 2016 Masters. The 46-year-old Englishman finally breaking through at this point in his career would be one of the best stories possible coming out the championship.
T5. Cameron Smith, Justin Harding, Justin Rose (-6): Harding was there with Rory, Kevin Streelman and Xander Schauffele with the round of the day after shooting a 65, but Rose has to be the contender from this group to be considered the most dangerous for the leaders. Rose bogeyed the 4th hole on Thursday and Friday, but he does not have a single bogey so far on the other 17 holes at Royal Portrush.
T8. Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth, Andrew Putnam, Dylan Frittelli (-5): It’s been fun to see Spieth back in contention and the fact that Brooks is here should be no surprise. The floor for Koepka at any major is top-10, and the ceiling is him winning all of the major championships. Fritelli could have been higher on the leaderboard before a lost ball late in the round set him back a few strokes. He was up at T2 on Friday after only qualifying for the Open last Sunday.
T12. Matt Kuchar, Patrick Reed, Jon Rahm, Tony Finau, Erik Van Rooyen, Lucas Bjerregaard (-4): While Finau has been flying below the radar a little bit many had him pegged as a dark horse for Royal Portrush thanks to his cumulative score to par at the Open in recent years. Finau’s affinity for links golf is a little less discussed than Rahm, who remains in the mix after holding a share of the lead on Thursday.
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