Recap of the day
Morning wave: With fairly calm conditions and a rise in the temperature gauge, Royal Portrush offered opportunity for the early starters. R1 leader J.B. Holmes was quick out of the gate and posted the target of 8-under after adding a 68 to his 66. That was one clear of Tommy Fleetwood and Lee Westwood, who came in with 67s for -7, one ahead of another Englishman, Justin Rose, who also fired 4-under. Jordan Spieth produced the most spectacular burst of scoring - birdie, birdie, eagle, birdie - in an outward 32 before posting 5-under. That was the same as Brooks Koepka, who maintained his lurking presence with a 69.
Shane Lowry was four behind Holmes when teeing off at 12.53. He wiped out the deficit after just five holes, continuing on the birdie trail to reach 10-under thru 10 before dropping back to -8 and tied first. The main story in the afternoon was whether home hero Rory McIlroy could make the cut after his horror show on day one. He added a sparkling 65 but fell one short as the cut line wouldn't come back to him.
Notables: -4 Patrick Reed, Jon Rahm, Matt Kuchar, -3 Dustin Johnson, Henrik Stenson, Xander Schauffele, Rickie Fowler, -1 Justin Thomas, Patrick Cantlay, Sergio Garcia, Evs Paul Casey, +1 Graeme McDowell, Francesco Molinari.
Revised betting: 6/1 Koepka, Fleetwood, 15/2 Rose, Lowry, 14/1 Holmes, Rahm, Spieth, Westwood, 25/1 Smith, 28/1 DJ.
Saturday weather forecast
We may be sold the idea that anyone can win from the cut line but history isn't the only thing refuting that scenario. It would be interesting if the morning starters had good weather and the leaders did not. But the reality is flipped. The leaders are due to get warmer temps and, more crucially, lighter winds. Playing catch-up will be extremely hard.
Leaders after 36 holes
J.B. Holmes (68, 134) – For the second day running, Holmes piped 12 (of 14) fairways while his green count was down just one to 14. In some senses his position is a huge surprise but not when you consider his best major performance was third in the 2016 Open at Troon.
Shane Lowry (67, 134) – After his stellar ball-striking in round one, Lowry leaned on his short came to compile this 67. Smashed five birdies in an outward 31 and drained a 40-foot bomb at 10 but had to battle coming home and could have dropped more shots than the two he gave back at 14 and 18. Hit just 12 greens.
Tommy Fleetwood (67, 135) – Dropped a shot at the opener but, from there, splashed six birdies against just one more bogey. Found 13 greens and, for the second year running, enters the weekend of his home Open in a tie for third.
Lee Westwood (67, 135) – He couldn't, could he? Some think Westwood's chance of that elusive first major has gone but, with his girlfriend as caddie, he's having a blast so far. Started with 11 straight pars and then birdied four of the last seven, hitting 14 greens on the day.
Fate of the favourites
Rory McIlroy (65, 144) – How he must regret yesterday's quadruple bogey start and triple bogey finish. He needed two things today to pull off the impossible - the low round of the day and help from the field. He did his bit with an excellent 65 but the cut line stayed at +2.
Brooks Koepka (69, 137) – Enters the weekend in T8 and just three back after a fairly quiet day featuring just a single bogey and three birdies. Missing six fairways didn't help but major No. 5 is within his sights.
Dustin Johnson (67, 139) – Looked to have compromised his fast start with bogeys at 11 and 14 but rallied late with birdies on the tough 16th and 18th to keep in the hunt. Hit 14 greens but has taken more putts than the field average.
Jon Rahm (70, 138) – Had a big crisis at the par-5 2nd when taking seven swishes (two balls returning to his feet) but showed mental maturity to come back with three birdies and the rest pars. Missed just two greens.
Shane Lowry (67): "Look, I'm obviously going to be thinking about it (winning) tonight. There's no point in shying away from it. I'm in a great position. But, my God, have we got a long way to go. There's two rounds of golf on this golf course against the best field in the world."
J.B. Holmes (68): "It was a solid day. Hit it well. Put the ball in the right spot. There were a couple of putts I left out there, but in general it was a good round."
Lee Westwood (67): "I haven't got any expectations. I'm just swinging quite well at the moment. It's nice to do it at The Open Championship, it's a big tournament and prestigious tournament and on a great golf course. It's just happened at the right time."
Tommy Fleetwood (67): "Yesterday I felt like I was a lot more stress-free than today. Today I made two or three really good putts. I'm happy with the challenge, to be honest with you. It's not all going to be singing and dancing through a major. I'm happy that I had a chance to scrap today and actually did really well. Was up to the test and, again, did a lot of good stuff."
Cameron Smith (66): "It was good. It was very solid. Much the same as yesterday, really. A few more putts went in today. Feeling really confident with the putter, which has allowed my longer game to free up. It's nice."
Brooks Koepka (69): "I didn't make a putt all week. I just need to figure that out. If I can make some putts I could very easily be 10-under, and really maybe more. I haven't made anything. On the front nine I didn't hit it as good as I'd like. Today I didn't pitch it as good. It's tough to really score if you're going to do that."
Jordan Spieth (67): "I felt like I played the easy holes well and then I avoided the pot bunkers today more than I did yesterday. But I certainly found the rough more today than I did yesterday. At some point I hope to be playing off the short grass this week."
Rory McIlroy (65): "Disappointed not to be here for the weekend. Unbelievably proud of how I handled myself today coming back after what was a very challenging day yesterday. And just full of gratitude towards every single one of the people that followed me to the very end and was willing me on. I felt like I gave a good account of myself today and I can leave here with my head held high."
Xander Schauffele (65): "I had a bit of a run-in with the R&A, which wasn't the most fun. They just tested my driver. Yeah, and it didn't pass. I was doing driver testing up until Wednesday. And then yesterday it wasn't really matching my bag, which was a bummer. I was getting a little upset on the golf course. And today I was testing a little bit on the range again with two different heads. But moved a few weights around and sort of found a good setting, I guess."
Justin Rose (67): "Again, the putter was pretty much the star of the show. Again, I feel like I'm playing better daily, which is nice."
Graeme McDowell (70): "Need to drive it better than I drove it today. Struggled with the driver. But my iron play was certainly good enough and I felt better on the greens today. So I think there's a low one available."
Tony Finau (70): "I played some good golf. I hit it nicely. If I can make some putts early and try to get the boat rowing, it would be nice. I probably need a low one on the weekend to put myself in a great position. But I'm in a good position with 36 holes to go."
Tiger Woods (70): "I kind of grinded my way around the golf course today. I had a chance to get it back to even par for the tournament. I didn't handle the par-5s well. I was in perfect condition all three of them, if I handled those par 5s well I would be right there. I'm going to take a couple of weeks off and get ready for the playoffs."
Road to victory at The Open
2018 Francesco Molinari – R1: 18th, R2: 29th, R3: 5th
2017 Jordan Spieth – R1: 1st, R2: 1st, R3: 1st
2016 Henrik Stenson – R1: 12th, R2: 2nd, R3: 1st
2015 Zach Johnson – R1: 2nd, R2: 4th, R3: 6th
2014 Rory McIlroy – R1: 1st, R2: 1st, R3: 1st
Notes: Molinari was T29 at the midpoint last year but that was unusual. Prior to 2018, every winner had been in the top 15 since David Duval entered the weekend at Lytham in T35. Molinari was six off the pace while Ernie Els was seven back in 2012 so deficits have been made up even though the weather forecast looks to be against that idea this year.
Fate of the second-round leaders The Open – where did they finish?
Notes: The halfway lead has been a good place to be. In four of the last nine years, a 36-hole pacesetter has gone on to win the claret jug. Adding to the two above were Darren Clarke in 2011 and Louis Oosthuizen in 2010.
Focus on – Shane Lowry
Shane Lowry won the 2009 Irish Open as a 500/1 amateur so he knows how to ride the wave of a pumped-up Irish crowd. That year, he held top spot at halfway after a brilliant second-round 62 while he also converted a 36-hole lead in Abu Dhabi earlier this year. He's 2-for-5 when in front at the midpoint and has never finished worse than third from this position. Looks like the popular Irishman isn't going away.
Focus on – Tommy Fleetwood
How does the Englishman fare when sat on the shoulders of the leader(s)? He's found himself just a shot back at halfway six times in his European/PGA Tour career and managed to convert just once - the 2017 Open de France. From the same position in last year's Open he went 71-73 on the weekend for T12 while T4 at the 2018 Honda Classic was his next best finish when one back. Fleetwood has a second and a fourth in U.S. Opens so knows enough now about contending on the weekend of a major. The problem has been piecing together two strong rounds when getting himself in trophy range and that remains the question mark hanging over Fleetwood going into the weekend.