An inspired Cameron Smith tore up the history books in surging to a two-shot lead at the halfway stage of The 150th Open.
The Australian raced to the turn in 31 and kept up his momentum down the back nine, the standout moment coming with an eagle on the par-5 14th, to sign for a 64 which took him to -13 heading into the weekend – the lowest score after 36 holes in an Open held on the Old Course.
Cameron Young, who had set the pace on Thursday with an eight-under-par round of his own, kept up his challenge with a 69 sealed by a birdie on the last which will see him join his namesake in Saturday’s final group.
Rory McIlroy and Viktor Hovland are waiting in the wings on -10, the latter putting himself in shot of the Championship territory in becoming the first player to eagle the par-4 15th this week when he spectacularly holed from 140 yards out the rough.
Drizzly conditions had greeted the day’s early starters but the grey skies soon turned blue and the world’s best golfers took advantage.
Dustin Johnson set the standard, a five-under-par 67 taking him to a -9, while world number 1 Scottie Scheffler used the morning to mount his own charge and sits a shot further back alongside leading English challenger Tyrrell Hatton.
Hatton’s compatriot Matt Fitzpatrick also carded a 66 while Adam Scott went one better to race into contention ahead of a weekend set to be packed with more prolific scoring.
Eighty-three players will contest the final two rounds, with some illustrious names missing the cut – none more so than Tiger Woods.
The three-time Champion Golfer was unable to pull off the comeback so many in the crowd craved but that did not stop them giving Woods an ovation on the 18th that brought a tear to the American’s eye.
Collin Morikawa will also be checking out early after carding a 73, becoming the first reigning Champion to miss the cut since Darren Clarke in 2012, while Brooks Koepka and Louis Oosthuizen were also among those to fall the wrong side of the dotted line.
SMITH SETS THE PACE
Cameron Smith was quietly efficient in compiling his 67 on Thursday but started his second round like a man determined to seize the initiative.
A long-range putt on the first began a run of three birdies in as many holes to get him off to a flyer and immediately put him within touching distance of the summit.
The outright lead was his when he sunk a 30-foot putt on the par-3 8th and his putter remained typically hot throughout, with the best saved for the 14th.
Having just about put enough behind his approach to avoid a dreaded putt up the slope, his 60-footer landed in the heart of the cup to stretch his advantage to three shots and put pressure on the chasing pack.
The lowest score in an Open round at the Old Course, 63, looked under threat at that stage but the Players Championship winner took a tactical approach to negotiating the tricky 16th and 17th.
Smith avoided targeting tricky pins, instead relying on his flat stick to do the job – something it invariably did, as he came home with four successive pars to cement his place at the top of the leaderboard.
YOUNG KEEPS HOPES ALIVE AS EUROPEANS FIGHT BACK
Cameron Young made the headlines on day one and showed he is ready to last the pace during another impressive round.
An early bogey at the 2nd checked his progress but he got back on track with a chip-in for birdie at the 4th, following up with another at the par-5 5th.
With Smith two groups in front, the overnight leader was soon playing catch-up but refused to let a dropped shot at 15 knock his confidence, gaining it back at the last to ensure he will begin tomorrow within touching distance of his new playing partner.
Young’s American compatriots had dominated the top end of the leaderboard through the morning but McIlroy and Hovland led a European fightback as the day wore on.
The 2014 Champion’s momentum began to build after the turn as he recorded three consecutive birdies between 10 and 12 before draining a 20-footer on a raucous Road Hole green to move to within three shots of the summit.
The omens are good for McIlroy, who has triumphed on each of the last two occasions he has finished -10 or better after 36 holes at a major and now has his sights set on ending his eight-year drought.
For all his mercurial talent, Hovland is still awaiting a top-10 finish in a major, never mind a trophy, but dazzled in Friday’s fading light.
The Norwegian picked up three birdies on the front nine and cancelled out dropped shots at 11 and 13 with his memorable eagle two holes later, going on to birdie the last.
AMERICANS MAKE THEIR MOVE
Both Dustin Johnson and Scottie Scheffler started their rounds with bogeys but they were a distant memory by the time they signed their cards.
Neither dropped another shot and Johnson ended strongly, with two birdies in his final three holes, including a clutch 29-foot putt at 16, ensuring he is in with a shot of going one better than his previous best Open finish of T2 in 2011.
Scheffler has been a model of consistency across the opening two days, with a brace of 68s leaving the world number 1 well placed to launch an assault over the weekend.
An aggressive tee shot targeting the pin on the par-3 11th sandwiched a run of three straight birdies after the turn and another on the last set him up nicely for moving day.
The American challenge is also being shepherded by Talor Gooch, Patrick Cantlay and Sahith Theegala, who sit a shot behind on -7, the latter producing an eagle at the 9th on the way to a 68.
Xander Schauffele enters the weekend on -5 while Jordan Spieth produced several reminders of his quality – not least a majestic approach which set up his birdie on the 2nd – but couldn’t quite pile on the pressure he would have liked and sits -4, the same score as Jon Rahm.
WOODS BIDS ST ANDREWS FAREWELL WHILE MORIKAWA MISSES OUT
Not all the Americans on show enjoyed quite such memorable outings. Tiger Woods briefly raised hopes with a birdie on the 3rd but that was as good as it got for a player who used to hold this course in the palm of his hand.
He never looked like extending his stay but if anything that made the watching hordes all the more eager to soak up what looks set to be their last chance to see Woods at the home of golf and he was visibly emotional as he made the famous walk over the Swilcan Bridge.
Morikawa is a more surprising weekend absentee, with the man who showed nerves of steel en route to glory last year struggling to locate the same composure this time around.
Previous success at St Andrews proved no guarantee of success either, with Zach Johnson, Louis Oosthuizen and John Daly – all of whom have lifted the Claret Jug here – also missing the cut.
Two Scots will contest the final two days on home turf, meanwhile, with David Law to begin on -3 after carding a 69 and Robert MacIntyre landing just above the dotted line following a 74 which took him back to level.