After consuming 25 hours of golf over the last two days, my primary conclusion is maybe the most obvious: The Open Championship is sensational. We’ve seen everything: superstars missing cuts, huge names scooting up the leaderboard, a magnificent golf course flexing its muscle and the most compelling hometown hero delivering a boatload of drama late on Friday (more on that in a minute).
Let’s take a look back now at nine thoughts I had about the second round of play at the 2019 Open at Royal Portrush as we look forward to Moving Day starting early Saturday morning in Northern Ireland.
1. Class is in session: Co-leader J.B. Holmes is giving a tutorial on how to win an Open Championship. He’s hit 85 percent of fairways and 80 percent of greens in regulation. He’s played stress-free golf at a tournament where stress can lead to complete ejections. I don’t know if he’ll win, but I know that he’s hit on the proper formula for holding that famous trophy on Sunday evening.
2. Portrush is the real MVP: Have mercy, friends, this place is a giant. They should maybe play all of the Opens here! I thought Andy Johnson did a great job laying out what makes Portrush so nuanced and cool here.
The Dunluce Links conducts a full examination of the best players’ abilities because of how Harry Colt used the outstanding topography to create challenge. Players see few, if any, “stock shots,” as the rumpled ground offers level lies only rarely. In addition to these micro-contours, the Portrush property has bold and distinct elevation changes, which allowed Colt to create stunning green sites in dunes and valleys. This dramatic topography is rare for a rota course and adds a layer of challenge. Players have to confront visual intimidation and gauge how the large-scale uphill and downhill slopes influence the greens.
One of my favorite things about it is that massive shift in elevation. The result is two-fold. It provides stunning visuals for those of us watching on television, and it allows athletes to be athletes. We’ll get to more on Jordan Spieth in a minute, but he’s always talked about loving Kapalua and Augusta National because they provide the same type of hanging lies Portrush does. This is why the leaderboard is a ball-striking trade show.
3. Brooks Koepka on a string: We should talk about Koepka controlling his ball flight. Seemingly every time I looked up, he was hole high (he’s hit 69 percent of greens in regulation so far). He didn’t score like he wanted, for sure, but he’s in the mix and has not shot 14 of his last 18 major rounds in the 60s. Fourteen of 18! He has more 63s in his last 18 major rounds than he has scores over par! He’s the favorite, and this is why.
4. Let’s get weird: You ready for these next two days?
5. English storylines: There are so many potential great winning storylines, and three of them are on the English side. Nobody from England has won an Open in 26 years — Nick Faldo in 1992 was the last — but Tommy Fleetwood, Lee Westwood and Justin Rose are all sniffing around. Each would be an amazing champ for different reasons, but Westwood is probably the feel-good tale out of the bunch — and maybe even the entire leaderboard. Here for him, his 31 on the back nine on Friday and his silly 78 percent of greens in regulation hit through two rounds.
6. American viewing: Fellow Americans, how good have the last two days been? I woke up on Friday to Koepka flexing his way up the board and shut it down to an emotional Rory McIlroy walking away from the best round of the week. In between, more golf than one should consume in a year. It’s been tremendous, though. There has been much drama (what is the over/under on how far Tyrrell Hatton’s next club toss will travel?) and seemingly every shot has been unique and interesting. If I have to get up for golf at 3 a.m., may it always be for a Ryder Cup or an Open.
7. How to get away with wayward drives: Spieth has hit 11 fairways for the event. Not in Round 2, rather all week. The field average is at 59 percent while Spieth is at 39 percent. He even said on Friday that he was surprised he shot 67 hitting it off the tee like he did. If that continues to take place on the weekend, he’ll eject straight into the North Atlantic.
8. Why to like Rory: Forget the 65. Forget the 79. Did you see the interviews he did with Golf Channel and Sky Ssports? I’ve never seen him break down like he did on Friday as what had taken place and what this week meant, and maybe even some bigger picture thoughts started seeping into his head. I wrote at length about his second round —— but it’s those interviews that I’ll never forget. Easiest sports superstar to like.
9. The group at T18: Lowry is my pick, but I love the crew that’s T18 at 3 under. That includes Dustin Johnson (freak), Rickie Fowler (consistent), Henrik Stenson (former champ), Xander Schauffele (current star) and Webb Simpson (underrated). They all go off an hour or more before the leaders, so if they post a score they can start praying for the weather to whip up behind them.