Louis Oosthuizen made Open history by setting a new 36-hole record at Royal St George’s, with another sensational round earning him a two-shot lead at the halfway stage.
The 2010 Champion Golfer backed up Thursday’s 64 with a round of 65 on day two to reach -11, his 129 strokes the fewest ever after two days of golf’s oldest major.
Oosthuizen was the star on another fabulous day of scoring, as the winds died down in the afternoon and the world’s best golfers cashed in.
Collin Morikawa had already led the way in the morning with a 64 to reach -9, while Jordan Spieth makes it a trio of major winners at the top of the leaderboard as he signed off on -8.
However, with conditions predicted to be favourable at the weekend, there are plenty of other contenders – with Dustin Johnson leading the charge at -7 alongside Dylan Frittelli and Scottie Scheffler.
Jon Rahm (-5) also impressed with a 64, while defending Champion Shane Lowry can’t be discounted after reaching -4 at the half-way stage. Both started their day nervously looking at the cut – which fell at +1 – but comfortably cemented their place for the weekend.
Further down, Matthias Schmid (-1) also created Open history as he equalled Tom Lewis’ record for the lowest round by an amateur.
He shot a 65 on the same course Lewis did a decade ago and will battle it out with Yuxin Lin (+1) for the Silver Medal.
However, perhaps the best moment of an incredible day came at the par-3 16th when Jonathan Thomson – who came through Final Qualifying at Hollinwell – made a sensational hole-in-one. That puts him to -1 and ensures he’s here at the weekend on his Open debut.
OOSTHUIZEN PULLS CLEAR
Oosthuizen left the 18th green on Thursday with a one-stroke lead but, by the time he walked out to the opening tee box on Friday, it had evaporated and turned into a three-shot deficit to Morikawa – who lit up the Sandwich links in the morning.
But undeterred, Oosthuizen played the 1st beautifully. A stonking drive was followed by a fine iron shot and then a confident putt into the heart of the hole for an opening birdie.
Another birdie followed on 7 but his round really caught fire at the 12th when he joined Morikawa and Spieth at -9 for a three-way tie of the lead.
Spieth, who started the day on -5, was three groups ahead of Oosthuizen and started like a greyhound, picking up shots at the 1st, 2nd and 4th holes – with a bogey at 3 thrown in for good measure.
He added further birdies at 10 and 12 but, just as Oosthuizen birdied 12, Spieth dropped a shot at 15 and three pars to close meant he signed for a 67 and sits at -8.
That left the path clear for Oosthuizen to attack Morikawa’s lead and he did so willingly, with another birdie at the tricky 13th sending out a warning to the rest of the field as he reached -10.
But if that piqued curiosity, then an eagle at the par-5 14th grabbed everyone’s attention as he quickly built a three-shot lead.
With four holes to go, all kind of records were potentially on the cards, including the lowest score over the first 36 holes in Open history (130), the Royal St George’s course record (63) and perhaps even the lowest individual round in Open history (62).
But his tee shot at 16 found the same bunker that trapped Thomas Bjorn in 2003 when the Dane’s Claret Jug bid unravelled, and he dropped his first shot of the week.
However, two pars down the stretch saw him finish on -11 – his 129 strokes at this stage one fewer than Sir Nick Faldo at Muirfield in 1992 and Brandt Snedeker at Royal Lytham & St Annes in 2012.
Amid all the drama of Friday’s sun-drenched afternoon, it is easy to forget just how impressive Morikawa was in the morning.
The early starters faced tougher conditions, with the wind whipped up and the temperatures cooler, but Morikawa provided a clinic in Open Championship golf.
The world number four rarely cropped up in pre-Championship conversations, perhaps because of the fact this week marks his debut and it so often takes time to get to grips with the links.
But also because, while his all-round game is mighty, his putting can be a weakness. However, the flat stick was not under much pressure, so good was Morikawa’s iron play that he was often putting from inside 10 feet.
At one point he was on course for to tie Faldo and Payne Stewart’s course-record of 63 before his first dropped shot of the week at 15. He then had a birdie chance at 18 to add his name alongside theirs but narrowly missed.
Still, it was a fabulous round with seven birdies and just one bogey, as he signed for a 64. And for those who like a stat, the last man to win The Open on debut was Ben Curtis at 2003 – at Royal St George’s.
“Yesterday I thought I played well but I was able to hit a few more fairways early on in the round today,” he said.
“When I’m on the fairway with an eight or nine-iron, I feel very comfortable – not necessarily going straight at the pins but being aggressive with the lines I need to take.
“It [The Open] is a major and every single one is important to me. There are memories here and there but I am awful with golf history – I want to create my own memories.”
DJ, KOEPKA AND RAHM MAKE THEIR MOVES
Oosthuizen, Morikawa and Spieth will rightly take the headlines but there is a leaderboard packed with world-class players champing at the bit behind.
Perhaps the most menacing presence is world number one Johnson, who was runner-up here in 2011 and claimed this is his second favourite Open venue – behind St Andrews – on the eve of this Championship.
He registered an under-the-radar 68 on day one and backed that up with an impressive 65 here, with birdies at 5, 7 and 8 before the turn and successive ones at 12, 13 and 14 helping him to -7.
His close friend and fellow major winner Brooks Koepka is just two behind on -5, where U.S Open champion Rahm joins him after a bogey-free 64 – his lowest round in a major.
Defending Champion Lowry (-4) will know he’s far from out of it after a neat 65, while Sergio Garcia is one back at -3.
Rory McIlroy (E) once again birdied the last for a level-par round of 70 but his chances of a second Claret Jug have significantly lengthened as he starts Saturday 11 strokes back.
HOME CONTINGENT STILL CHALLENGE
England’s golfers struggled to live with the blistering pace set by those out front but many enter the weekend with a chance of glory.
Andy Sullivan is the leading home favourite, with a pair of 67s helping him to -6 and T7 overnight, while Paul Casey (-5) and Danny Willett (-4) are just behind.
Justin Rose started the day on -3 and finished there too, but that hardly tells the story of his up-and-down round. The 2013 U.S Open champion dropped four shots in the first seven holes but clawed each of them back in a determined effort.
There was also frustration for Tommy Fleetwood, who battled the morning conditions and signed for a 71 to leave him at -2 – the same score as Ian Poulter, Matt Wallace, Jack Senior and Lee Westwood.
FORMER CHAMPIONS MISS THE CUT
The cut line fell at +1, which was one stroke too low for 2018 Champion Francesco Molinari, who carded both a triple and double bogey today, and world number nine Tyrrell Hatton.
Other big names to miss out include Patrick Reed (+3) and Champion Golfers Stewart Cink (+3), Ernie Els (+4), Darren Clarke (+6) and Phil Mickelson (+12).