Oosthuizen leads, more stars lurk as 2021 Open Championship reaches halfway mark
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Oosthuizen leads, more stars lurk as 2021 Open Championship reaches halfway mark

COLLIN MORIKAWA'S 64 HAS HIM TWO SHOTS BACK OF THE LEAD AT THE OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP AT ROYAL ST. GEORGE'S


Louis Oosthuizen fired a scintillating 5-under 65 in the second round of the 2021 Open Championship at Royal St. George’s Golf Club to post 11-under 129 and take a two-shot lead over 2020 PGA Champion Collin Morikawa and a three-stroke edge over three-time major champion Jordan Spieth. Oosthuizen also set a new Open Championship record for the lowest opening 36 holes. A group four shots back at 7 under includes two-time major winner Dustin Johnson.

“Yeah, to have any record at the Open or part of any record at the Open is always very special. I think I've played really good the last two days,” the South African said breezily, with his typical aw-shucks easiness and earnestness.

“I probably played a bit better yesterday in the conditions we were playing in, but today we got really lucky the last nine holes. It was as good a weather as you can get playing this golf course. All of us took advantage of that. I think in our three-ball [with Irishman Shane Lowry and current U.S. Open champion Jon Rahm] we had a 64 and two 65s, which you don't really see around a links golf course.”

Indeed sunny skies and short-sleeve weather made the English linksland seem more akin to South Carolina, and players took advantage of the fine weather. Of the top 16 players on the leaderboard, all are within six shots of the lead, and all but one shot 67 or better.

Playing late in the afternoon, long after Collin Morikawa had posted an early 64 to surge past him on the leaderboard, Oosthuizen rode a birdie-birdie-eagle stretch over holes 12, 13 and 14 to regain, and then increase, the lead. He reached 12 under briefly, before hitting his tee shot on the short but treacherous 149-yard, par-3 16th hole to card his only bogey of the tournament thus far.

Still, a two-shot lead in golf is nothing – it’s just one bad swing or one bad decision. Oosthuizen’s going to have to fight a two-fronted war this weekend.

On the one hand he’ll have to fend off the youthful, yet unflappable Morikawa, bludgeoning bombers like Dustin Johnson (7 under), Rahm and Brooks Koepka (both at 5 under) who have a combined seven majors between them, and a trio of his fellow countrymen seeking their big break: Dylan Fritielli (7 under), as well as Daniel Von Tonder and Justin Harding (6 under).

On the other hand, and even more terrifying, is the horrific, decade-long run of runner-up finishes Oosthuizen has tallied since winning his only major, the 2010 Open Championship at St. Andrews -- six in all, including two more this year at the PGA in May and the U.S. Open last month. Still, Oosthuizen looks to keep aggressive.

“I needed to play just that little bit better coming down the stretch. [The] U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, that wasn't the easiest golf course to go the last five, six holes trying to get a birdie, you were sort of just playing making pars, and obviously Jon finished with those two unbelievable putts he made, and all of a sudden now I'm chasing,” Oosthuizen recalled.

“I could have probably been a little bit more aggressive on a few occasions. It's just I don't think I would have done a lot different in a lot of them. Right now I think where my game is at, I just need to put myself in position, and this year is the best I've been putting, and I just need to hit greens and give myself any opportunities for birdies.”

Meanwhile Morikawa, who won the PGA Championship last year in his first start, is now endeavoring to do it again at the most august golf tournament on the planet. On Friday, he carded seven birdies against just a single bogey. Though he hit only 6 fairways, he hit 14 greens and took just 27 putts en route to a 64, tied for low round of the tournament with Rahm, Emiliano Grillo of Argentina and Oosthuizen’s bogey-free gem from Thursday.

“I wouldn't be here through these two rounds if I hadn't played last week at Scottish. I've played in firm conditions. I can think of places I've played in tighter, drier conditions, but just having fescue fairways and the ball sitting a little different was huge to see last week,” Morikawa said, pointing to an equipment change as providing additional spark.

“I changed my irons, my 9- through 7-iron that I normally have blades in. I changed to the MCs strictly because I couldn't find the center of the face. I was hitting these iron shots last week that I just normally don't, and my swing felt good, but it was a huge learning opportunity. Last week I wanted to win, but I came out of it learning a lot more, and thankfully it helped for this week.When I'm in the fairway with a 9-iron or 8-iron, I feel very comfortable. Not necessarily going straight at the pins but being aggressive with the lines I need to take and slopes you need to play.”

While pre-tournament favorites DJ, Rahm and Koepka have fought their way into contention, another popular pick, Bryson DeChambeau made the 1-over cut on the number, tied for 65th place. Coming into the tournament we knew he’d care less about driving accuracy, and as expected he’s hit only 50 percent of his fairways. But he also hit only 64 percent of greens in regulation, and his putting average of 1.7 has him below the field average in all three major categories.

Worse still, DeChambeau has to play the rest of the tournament with controversy railing around him over intemperate remarks he made about his Cobra equipment after the first round.

“If I can hit it down the middle of the fairway, that's great, but with the driver right now, the driver sucks. It's not a good face for me and we're still trying to figure out how to make it good on the mis-hits,” he fumed after posting an opening 1-over 71 Thursday.

Cobra representatives were quick to defend themselves and their gear, finally saying out loud what everyone suspected anyway: Bryson’s never satisfied, and may be engaging in golf alchemy trying to find a way to unlock unlimited distance. DeChambeau apologized this morning, but the damage was done as Twitter – and especially Brooks Koepka, DeChambeau’s foil - skewered him.

“I love my driver,” Koepka tweeted.

Overall 77 players made the cut at 1-over 141 or better and will play the weekend. A dozen major champions were among the most notable names to miss the cut, including former Open champions Francesco Molinari (2017), Henrik Stenson (2016) Phil Mickelson (2013), Stewart Cink (2009), Ernie Els (2002 and 2012) and Darren Clarke (2011, here at Royal St. Georges).

There was one other note of interest today: the tallest player to ever start in an Open Championship in 149 years – 6 foot 9 inch Englishman Jonathan Thomson – carded a hole-in-one at the iconic 16th today with a 149-yard gap wedge. Do you remember Game of Thrones? Have you heard of their character “The Mountain That Rides?” Perhaps he should be dubbed Thomson “The Mountain That Golfs.” He followed up that ace with a birdie, carded a 67 on the day, and stands at 2 under going into the weekend.

About the author

Jay Flemma

Jay Flemma

Starting with a blog and a dream, Jay Flemma launched his first sports-writing website in 2004. Some 13 years and 25 major golf championships later, Jay has won multiple national sports writing awards. Besides GNN, his work has appeared in numerous books as well as on-line at Cybergolf, PGA.com, GolfObserver, GolfChannel.com and many other sites and print magazines. When not trying to find a lost golf ball, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet, sports and trademark lawyer in Manhattan. His clients have been nominated for Grammy and Emmy awards, won a Sundance Film Festival Best Director award, performed on stage and screen, and designed pop art for museums and collectors. Jay lives in Forest Hills, N.Y., and is fiercely loyal to his alma maters, Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Trinity College in Connecticut.