Think it’s tough to read the greens at the British Open?
Try predicting the topsy-turvy leaderboard.
Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas — Nos. 1 and 2 in the world, respectively — missed the cut Friday, and No. 3 Justin Rose needed to make a putt on 18 to get in. Meanwhile, Bernhard Langer, who has been a mainstay since the 1980s, is happily sticking around.
“It just goes to show it’s not easy,” said Langer, 60, who shot even par Friday and is two over heading into the weekend, one stroke better than the plus-three cut line.
Zach Johnson and Kevin Kisner, among several American players sharing a house near the course, lead after two rounds at six under. San Diego’s Pat Perez was at six under too, until bogeying the final hole. He’s in a cluster at five.
On a dreary summer day, cool and wet, the umbrellas went up and the distances came down, the rain-softened fairways restoring some sense of normalcy. Later in the day, the skies did clear with the sun coming out by the afternoon.
A day after players were hitting five-irons 300 yards, as if they were playing on the moon, circus golf packed up and left town.
“The fairways definitely didn’t have as much fire in them,” said Rory McIlroy, who matched his opening-round 69 to grab a share of sixth place heading into the weekend. “But it was cold as well, so the ball just wasn’t going very far. I was surprised there were a couple of holes where I thought I’d hit shots that were going to end up in a fairway bunker or close to it, and they were a good bit short of that.”
Kisner, the first-round leader, carried that momentum into Friday and continued to build on it. Down the stretch he got to eight under, a two-stroke lead over the field. But he stumbled on the 18th hole when his ball rolled into the burn, the creek in front of the green. That double bogey pulled him back into the pack a bit, and he’s now tied for the lead.
Tommy Fleetwood, who shot a course-record 63 here last summer, came close to that Friday with a 65 that put him within a shot of Johnson.
“It’s not a course record, but it’s pretty good,” said Fleetwood, who atoned for his relatively routine 72 in the opening round.
Although he has never won a major, Fleetwood has come close, tying the course record on Sunday at Shinnecock Hills to finish second in this year’s U.S. Open. He’s instantly identifiable by his flowing long hair and neatly trimmed beard, looking like the lead in “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
McIlroy, who had a wild hairstyle as a teen when he burst onto the scene here in 2007, is looking to win his fifth major and first since 2014.
It was at the Open here 11 years ago when the 18-year-old from Northern Ireland won the silver medal awarded to the low amateur. Back then, he had bushy black curls spraying out the sides of his golf cap. Now, he keeps his hair short and businesslike, although he talked this week about recapturing that carefree spirit he had as a kid and not being so conservative with his shots.
“This week, one of my main thoughts is just let go,” he said. “Just go out there and give it your all, and I’d rather fail by trying 100% than by sort of holding back and maybe not giving myself the opportunity to do well.”
The trick is to balance that with the risks of playing with abandon.
“It’s definitely a day where, don’t shoot yourself out of the tournament,” he said.
Tiger Woods, playing in his first British Open since 2015, shot an even-par 71 for a second straight day. It has been five years since he has entered the weekend of a major at even par or better, the last time being the British Open at Muirfield in 2013.
“It’s a pretty packed leaderboard,” he said, “and I’m certainly right there in it.”
Brooks Koepka, winner of the past two U.S. Opens, is at one under but well within striking range, particularly on this unpredictable course.
This championship is an especially comfortable one for Johnson, winner of the 2015 British Open and 2007 Masters. According to ESPN, he has 10 rounds of 67 or better in majors, with nine of those coming in the British Open.
“I feel like this championship more than any tournament completely magnifies exactly what I need to work on, my strengths and my weaknesses,” he said. “Everybody says you’ve got to hit it low, knock it down, punch it in. Yeah, you do. You’ve got to use the ground. You’ve got to know where to land it. All of the above.
“But you’ve got to hit it high. You’ve got to hit it left. You’ve got to hit it right. You’ve got to hold it. You’ve got to turn it, use the wind. You’ve got to do everything.”
Zach Johnson also concedes that when people see his name at or near the top of the leaderboard, many of them are probably thinking it’s Dustin Johnson. The two are not related.
“I’ve been called `Dustin’ many times,” Zach said. “I doubt he’s been called `Zach’ many times.”