Peter Morrison/Associated Press
Peter Morrison/Associated Press
LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England – Amid plenty of wayward swings, Brandt Snedeker and Adam Scott were steady as can be at the British Open.
And look who’s lurking right behind them: a fist-pumping Tiger Woods.
Snedeker, a 31-year-old Tennessean who never even made the cut in golf’s oldest major, surged to the lead with another bogey-free round Friday, shooting a 6-under 64 that left him tied with Nick Faldo for the lowest 36-hole score in Open history.
Faldo posted a 130 total at Muirfield in 1992 – the lowest halfway score in any major, for that matter – on the way to the last of his three Open titles. Snedeker matched him with a 10-under showing over the first two days, and he only can hope that come Sunday he’ll be in the same position Faldo was two decades ago: holding the claret jug.
“I’m sure everybody in this room is in about as much shock as I am right now,” Snedeker said after coming to the media center. “My mantra all week has been to get the ball on the greens as fast as possible. Once I’m on there, I have a pretty good hand on the speed of the greens. I’m just going to try and keep doing that over the weekend.”
Scott and Woods may have something to say about that at Royal Lytham & St. Anne, where the weather hasn’t been much of a factor, but some devilish pin placements began to spread out the field.
Rory McIlroy went tumbling off the leaderboard. Phil Mickelson went home, missing the cut for only the fourth time in 19 Open appearances.
Scott, who has Woods’ former caddie on his bag, teed off in the afternoon after tying the course record with a 64 on Thursday, a mark that Snedeker quickly matched again 24 hours later. Even though the first-round lead was gone by the time he stepped on the course, the Aussie didn’t wilt after seeing a new name atop the scoreboard.
Instead, he turned it up on the back side, making three birdies, capped by a 10-footer at the tough finishing hole, leaving him at 67 for the day and 131 overall.
“It’s kind of a culmination of everything I’ve done over the last couple of years,” Scott said. “I feel like this is the path I’ve been going down and just happens to have happened here that I’ve put myself in good position after two days at a major.”
Woods, whose ex-caddie Steve Williams now works for Scott, had the crowd roaring late in the day, holing out from the bunker behind the 18th green for a closing birdie. He pumped his right fist and let out a yell – just like old times before injuries and personal problems sidetracked his quest to beat Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major titles.
“I’m very pleased where I’m at,” Woods said. “We’re at the halfway point, and I’m right there in the mix.”
Woods has been stuck on 14 major championships for more than four years, but he got himself in position to break the drought with a 67 on Friday that pushed his total to 134, just four strokes off the lead.
Snedeker kept up his assault on the fairways, the key to navigating the claustrophobic layout in northwestern England. He rapped in four birdies on the front side, rolled in a 25-footer at the par-5 11th, then put his tee shot in the middle of the green on the par-3 12th and calmly sank another birdie putt.
He’s made 10 of those over the first two days. Just as important, Snedeker has yet to post a bogey.
“No bogeys around here is getting some good breaks and playing some pretty good golf,” he said.
Woods rolled in a couple of early birdies before some misadventures in the rough at the par-5 11th cost him his only bogey of the round. He bounced back to sink an 18-footer at the 16th before stealing another stroke at the end. Having his ex-caddie on the bag for Scott only adds to the potential drama on the weekend.
Thorbjorn Olesen of Denmark birdied the last two holes for a 66 and a 135 overall. Jason Dufner (66), Matt Kuchar (67), South Africa’s Thomas Aiken (68), Graeme McDowell (69) and Paul Lawrie (71) kept themselves in the hunt at 136. Ernie Els (70) was another stroke back, while the group at 138 included No. 1-ranked Luke Donald and Steve Stricker.
Snedeker mostly is remembered for making an emotional run at the 2008 Masters and winding up in a tie for third. Otherwise, he’s never been much of a factor in the majors; in fact, he was 0-for-3 in making the cut at his previous British Opens.
That wasn’t a concern this time, not the way he’s been playing. Snedeker proved there were plenty of birdies to be had if you kept the ball in the fairway, allowing him to reach 31 of 36 greens in regulation (86 percent) over the first two days.
For many players, that sort of consistency proved elusive.
McIlroy, who opened with a 67, knocked his ball onto an adjoining tee box at No. 3, needed a couple of whacks to escape a towering pot bunker on the ninth, and struggled to a 75 that left him a daunting 10 strokes out of the lead.
“It’s just tough when you’re really trying to get something going, and it’s just not quite happening,” McIlroy said.
Mickelson, the runner-up last year at Royal St. George but never an Open champion, could’ve warmed up the jet before he even made the turn. Three double-bogeys led to a 78 and an 11-over 151 total. Late in the day, only eight players in the 156-man field were below him on the scoreboard.
“I really don’t know what to say,” Mickelson said after his worst Open round since 2008. “I obviously played terrible.”
But Donald gave the English fans a thrill with four birdies in five holes on the front side, pushing him onto the leaderboard.
“Luuuuuke!” the gallery chanted after Donald rolled one in at No. 8 and pumped his fist.
He dropped back with a sloppy approach shot at the 13th that rocketed through the green and disappeared into an especially tall patch of grass. Unable to play it, he had to take a one-stroke penalty. But he recovered for a 68, leaving him on the fringe of contention for his first major title.
“It’s nice to string a couple of solid rounds together in a major,” Donald said. “Obviously, where I am in my career, I need to be contending.”
The weather has been largely uneventful, except for the remnants of a heavy rain overnight. The course was inundated, turning some bunkers into ponds and prompting the R&A to request fans delay their arrival so the grounds could dry out.
The bunkers were the main issue for the players. Already vulnerable to flooding because of the closeness of the Irish Sea and rains that have been over the top even by English standards, several traps were transformed into small ponds by the latest batch of showers.
PGA champion Keegan Bradley had to hit one of his bunker shots out of a couple of inches of water because there was no place to drop it.
But the forecast for the last two days mostly was dry.
“It’s going to be a good weekend,” Woods said.