You cannot ask for a lot more out of a major championship leaderboard entering the weekend than the 149th British Open has given us at Royal St. George’s.
The storylines are diverse and plentiful.
At the top, you have 38-year-old South African Louis Oosthuizen — whose career narrative is about his six runner-up finishes in major championships — at 11-under after shooting 65 in Friday’s second round in Sandwich, England.
Right behind Oosthuizen, you have 24-year-old Collin Morikawa, who set the tone Friday with his 6-under 64 in the morning to get to 9-under. Morikawa won the 2020 PGA Championship on his first try in the event and is trying to do the same thing this weekend, playing in his first British Open.
If he wins, he would become the first man to win two major championships in his debut in each. He, too, would join Tiger Woods as the only players to win both the British Open and PGA Championship before turning 25.
After Oosthuizen and Morikawa, is Jordan Spieth, the 2017 British Open winner and generally one of golf’s favorite sons. Spieth shot 67 Friday to put himself in position.
Dustin Johnson, the 2020 Masters winner, shot an afternoon 65 to get to 7-under and in the thick of contention. Rising star Scottie Scheffler and South African Dylan Frittelli are also 7-under.
Not far back is none other than Brooks Koepka, one of the sport’s best big-game hunters in major championships. Koepka shot 66 to get to 5-under, the same score as reigning U.S. Open winner Jon Rahm, who rallied from his first-round 1-over to 5-under after shooting 64 in the second round.
Any more star power than that would be greedy.
The man to watch, though, is Oosthuizen, particularly after he set the British Open 36-hole scoring record at 129.
“I only heard that when I walked in, so I wasn’t aware of what it even was before,’’ Oosthuizen said. “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. I probably played a bit better [Thursday] in the conditions we were playing in, but [Friday] we got really — I would say lucky sort of the last nine holes. It was as good a weather as you can get playing this golf course.’’
Indeed, Friday was as close to ideal Palm Springs-like conditions as it’s possible to get at a British Open: The wind was down, the sun was up and the temperatures were in the high 60s.
It’s not a coincidence that 52 players in the 155-man field are under par and the cut was 1-over.
“All of us took advantage of that,’’ Oosthuizen said of the weather. “I think in our three-ball we had a 64 [from Rahm] and two 65s [him and Shane Lowry], which you don’t really see around a links golf course.’’
The pace was set by Morikawa in the morning. He made the turn in 31 and was 7-under through 14 holes — setting off a 59 alert.
Incredibly, Morikawa had never played links golf until he played in the Scottish Open last week. He finished that tournament in a tie for 71st and said afterward that the different, harder turf was a shock to his system and he needed to adjust to it.
He adjusted rather quickly.
“I wouldn’t be here through these two rounds if I hadn’t played last week at Scottish,” Morikawa, the fourth-ranked player in the world, said. “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.’’
Morikawa fell two shots short of equaling the major record of 62 set by Branden Grace in the 2017 Open at Royal Birkdale. He, too, fell a shot short of the tournament record at Royal St. George’s, set in 1993 by Nick Faldo and Payne Stewart.
“I had no clue what any course record was,’’ Morikawa said. “I don’t know any of those numbers. I’m awful with that stuff knowing ahead. Now I do know. I was just trying to make a lot of birdies.’’
He made seven of them Friday.
The last British Open won by a player making his debut was Ben Curtis, in 2011 at Royal St. George’s.