Open Championship: 10 notes to know on Cameron Smith, Rory McIlroy and more

Open Championship: 10 notes to know on Cameron Smith, Rory McIlroy and more

The anticipation leading into this year’s Open Championship was gigantic. Through two rounds, a stout leaderboard has helped the event somehow live up to the hype.

Friday provided a little bit of everything – from Tiger Woods displaying emotion after swiftly walking across the Swilcan Bridge to fans roaring in the afternoon in response to some great shots from some of the world’s best. Here are the top notes to know from Round 2 of The Open Championship at St. Andrews:

1. A blistering-hot day on the greens fueled the lowest round of Cameron Smith’s major-championship career, giving him a two-shot lead entering the weekend. The Aussie star made in excess of 250 feet of putts in his round, gaining more than 6 1/2 strokes on the field while putting. At 13 under par, Smith has recorded the best 36-hole score through two rounds of an Open Championship held at St. Andrews.

This is the second time Smith has held the lead or co-lead in a major championship. At the 2020 Masters, Smith was tied with four other players at the midway point before Dustin Johnson punched the accelerator on the weekend and won. This marks the fifth straight Open at The Old Course where there is an outright leader through 36 holes – three of the previous four went on to win (Woods in 2000 and 2005, Louis Oosthuizen in 2010).

The only player to win The Players Championship and The Open in the same season was Jack Nicklauswho did so in 1978. That year, The Open was also held at St. Andrews.

2. Cameron Young continued his terrific Open debut, finishing with a second-round 69. He’ll be in the final pairing Saturday with Smith, two shots off the lead. At 11 under, Young tied the record for the lowest 36-hole score to par by anyone in their first Open Championship start. In 1982, then-22-year-old Bobby Clampett was 11 under through 36 holes at Royal Troon before ultimately finishing in a tie for 10th place.

This is just the second cut Young has made in his brief major-championship career, but the big stage didn’t start him the first time. Young shot 67-71 on the weekend earlier this year at Southern Hills to finish in a tie for third place. The potential PGA Tour Rookie of the Year is trying to become the fifth player to make his Open debut at St. Andrews and win, and the first man to do it in 58 years.

3.Rory McIlroy began his second round by tipping his cap to Woods as he walked up the 18th at The Old Course. McIlroy spent the rest of his afternoon working toward joining Woods as an Open champion on these hallowed grounds. McIlroy was 10 under for the week as he walked off the 12th green Friday, marking the first time since the 2011 US Open he had reached double-digits under par through 30 holes of a major. This is the first time he has been minus-10 or better entering Round 3 of a major since his last Open win from him in 2014.

McIlroy has no issues turning this into a shootout at St. Andrews this weekend: In every one of his PGA and DP World Tour victories in his career, the winning score has been double-digits under par. The averaging winning score for McIlroy in his four major wins is 15.5 under – that’s the lowest average for any player with multiple major wins going back to the inaugural Masters in 1934.

4. Viktor Hovland he has professed that he can struggle with his short game. The statistics articulate that, as well: Entering this week, Hovland is ranked last on Tour in strokes gained around the green per round. One might think that Hovland and some of the most infamous, penalizing bunkers in all of golf would be a mismatch this week.

One way to eliminate those bunkers from the equation is to jar your approach shot from 139 yards, like Hovland did at 15 on Friday to push himself into the top five. Even more significant — a hole later, he hit a brilliant shot from a greenside bunker and was able to save his pair of it. Tied with McIlroy at minus-10, this is the first time Hovland has been in the top 15 entering the weekend at a major championship.

5. Seven years ago, Johnson appeared poised to claim what would have been his first major victory at St. Andrews. A month after heartbreak at Chambers Bay, Johnson looked to be in full control through two rounds at The Open, leading by a stroke entering the weekend. After not hitting into a single bunker for two days, he went 1-of-5 on sand saves on the weekend, carded a pair of 75s and finished 11 shots out of the three-man playoff.

Johnson is part of the storyline again. After two rounds, he has the lowest score of the LIV Golf contingent and he finished with the best score from the tougher half of the draw. Being in the mix through two days is nothing new for Johnson: This is the 15th time since 2010 he’s been in the top five through two rounds of a major, most of any player in that span. It’s the ninth time he’s opened a major with consecutive rounds in the 60s, the most instances of any player going back the past 25 years.

6. Speaking of those scoring waves, differential was not insignificant over the course of two days. Players who went out in the early/late half of the draw averaged a 36-hole total score of 143.7, about 1.4 strokes lower than their counterparts on the other side.

7. Reigning world No. 1 scottie scheffler is five off the pace through two rounds and still in the mix as he attempts to become the first since Woods in 2005 to win The Masters and The Open in the same season. Scheffler started the week with two rounds of 68, the fourth world No. 1 to start an Open at St. Andrews with two rounds in the 60s. Two of them went on to win (Woods in 2000 and 2005), one did not (Greg Norman in 1990). Scheffler hit every green in regulation Friday, the first time in his greatest career he has done that.

Then there’s this: Since the beginning of 2020, no player has been better on the weekends in the major championships than Scheffler, who is 17 under par in Rounds 3 and 4 of majors in that span, the best of any player.

8. Playing possibly in his last St. Andrews Open, Woods was visibly emotional as he was cheered by the crowds surrounding the 18th hole Friday. Woods has rewritten the record book maybe more than anyone in golf history. For example, only two players have won multiple men’s major championships by five strokes or more on the same course – Young Tom Morris at Prestwick in 1869 and 1870, and Woods at St. Andrews in 2000 and 2005.

Though Woods limped home Friday with a 75, he saw some good golf in his group. Reigning US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick shot 66 on Friday, tying the lowest round ever recorded at The Open by a player in the same group as Woods. Nick Price and Jason Day also shot 66s with Woods, in 1998 and in 2015, respectively.

9. Three appears to be the magic number when it comes to looking at potential winners at this stage of the championship. Fourteen of the past 15 Open champions at St. Andrews were at or within three shots of the lead through 36 holes. The same goes for 11 of the past 13 Open winners overall, and 14 of the past 15 champs across all men’s majors. Adding to that, the past seven Open winners at St. Andrews were T-4 or better entering the third round. Is this truly a four-horse race at the halfway point?

10. A couple of other notable contenders don’t think so. Among them is Tyrrell Hatton, who has won the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at St. Andrews twice in his DP World Tour career. Hatton, who is five shots off the pace, has a 67.5 scoring average at The Old Course in that event. Ten years after letting the Claret Jug slip away at Royal Lytham, adam scott fired a bogey-free 65 on Friday morning. It was his fifth career bogey-free round at The Open, the most of any player over the past 25 years.

Since 1900, 11.8 percent of Open champions have been five shots back or more through 36 holes.

(Photo by Cameron Smith: Michael Madrid/USA Today)

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