British Open 2018: Americans Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth step up; plus nine more thoughts
This weekend should rock after 36 holes of pretty terrific golf at Carnoustie
Coming into this week's 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie, young Americans had won five straight major championships dating back to Brooks Koepka's 2017 U.S. Open win at Erin Hills. On Friday, two more that fit that mold made a push to extend that streak to six in a row as Jordan Spieth (67) and Rickie Fowler (69) surged onto the first page of the leaderboard and into contention at what has been a top-rate Open.
Fowler's round looked like it had a chance to be something special after he made birdie at three of the first four holes. He stumbled a bit in the middle, though, and played the next 14 in a respectable 1 over to shoot the 69 and get in the clubhouse at 3-under 139 for the first 36 holes of the tournament.
"The front nine you look at -- when the wind is down like it was today -- that's a chance for you to go out and get off to a good solid start and create some cushion," Fowler said on Golf Channel. "You're definitely going to have some birdie opportunities if you hit it in the fairway. The hold-on game starts after [No. 14]. You need to make some really good swings coming in. Luckily so far, other than No. 16, I've been playing the final stretch quite nicely."
That's certainly an accurate take. Fowler has played the last four holes in even par through three days, which is over two strokes better than the field average.
"Today was in a way similar to just playing golf at home," Fowler said of the easier, wetter conditions. "You didn't have to do anything special or hit different shots. In the greens, it was just playing like firm greens back home. Today was a good solid day. I wish we could have gotten a little bit more about it, but I'm hoping this weekend the wind picks up and the course dries back out."
Spieth, who is T11 alongside his week-long housemate, also took advantage of the first few holes. He took it a little deeper than that, too. Last year's Open champion chipped in for birdie at the third hole to get his round rolling, and he didn't look back.
He went on to make four more birdies before finally stumbling at the par-3 16th after leaving a shot out of the rough, well, in the rough. He was that close to notching just the second bogey-free round of the week (Tommy Fleetwood, who shot 65 in Round 2, currently holds that distinction).
"I was a little more patient at the end, and my short game was a little stronger today," Spieth, who shot 1-over 72 in Round 1, told Golf Channel. "Neither day has been in even a B-range of ball-striking, but I'm working the right way. My misses are missing in the places they would for the swing thought I'm working on if I don't do it correctly."
Spieth is trying to not only extend that American streak but also to become the first golfer to go back to back at an Open since Padraig Harrington did it in 2007-08.
"It was terrible," Spieth said of having to give the Claret Jug back earlier this week. "I didn't enjoy it at all. You have to go out there on the first tee box and go through a ceremony of this isn't yours anymore. I really enjoyed having it. It's the coolest trophy our sport has to offer."
At 3 under, he and Fowler are both just three back of the lead and very much in the mix going into Saturday. So maybe it was only for one week that Spieth had to give it up before taking it back to Texas on Monday. Or maybe this time it's Fowler who gets to drink from it for the first time as part owner. Either one of those scenarios would move the 20-something American dominance to six straight majors and make an interesting narrative for September's Ryder Cup.
Here are nine other thoughts on Round 2 at Carnoustie.
1. Fast five: How wild is the ride coming home? You get maybe the easiest hole on the course in the par-5 14th followed by four of the five toughest. It's like the crest of a roller coaster followed by a never-ending ride straight down to your own self-destruction. Remember this, file it away for Sunday.
2. Well actually: Remember when Zach Johnson (-6, T1) was 80-1 in some places (and 100-1 in others!) to win this tournament? He came in having finished in the top 16 in five of his last six Opens and has now made 12 consecutive cuts at this tournament. When you combine a tough course with nasty conditions and to some degree reduce the distance advantage of the field, it's easy to see why Johnson is in contention.
3. Brooks Koepka keeps coming: The two-time U.S. Open champion has finished in the top 10 in nine of his last 10 majors for a reason, and he showed why as his first 36 unfolded at Carnoustie. After going out in 5-over 41 on Thursday, Koepka played the next 27 holes in 6 under par to get within striking distance. He ended Friday with probably the best shot into No. 18 anyone has hit all week. Also, I thought this was a brilliant (and expletive-laced) way to describe him and his game.
4. Getting close: If the following stat holds true for this year's Open, that means one of these players is going to win the 2018 Open.
- Zach Johnson (-6)
- Kevin Kisner (-6)
- Tommy Fleetwood (-5)
- Pat Perez (-5)
- Xander Schauffele (-5)
- Rory McIlroy (-4)
- Erik Van Rooyen (-4)
- Matt Kuchar (-4)
- Tony Finau (-4)
- Zander Lombard (-4)
5. What a close: The 1985 champion, Sandy Lyle, birdied the last from distance to close out his Open career. It was a pretty awesome moment for somebody who, some what hilariously, exclusively wore merchandise shop gear for the first two days.
6. No laying up? Rory McIlroy talked about this after his round, but the wetter conditions cerated situations that called for laying back and not challenging some of the fairway bunkers. Add this to the (long) list of reasons this course is (and many Open courses are) awesome.
7. Tucking pins: How good is the R&A at setting up its course? I was thinking about this this morning, and I think they do such a good job of not making the greens too crazy by killing them like the USGA. They tuck pins behind bunkers, enhance your ability to score based on angles and let the courses do what they do. This allows the best players to shine and it reduces the complaints that seemingly mostly come because of poor green setups. They make it tough, but they don't make it a clown show. I think the players respect that.
8. Early-late was the right break: If you got the early-late draw like Kisner, Spieth, Fowler and Kuchar, the course was playing about a stroke and a half easier than if you were late-early like McIlroy, Fleetwood, Koepka and Zach Johnson.
9. Can Kisner stick? He's now led or co-led after five of the last 14 major championship rounds. However, like Dustin Johnson at the 2018 U.S. Open and McIlroy at the 2018 Masters, he's relying too heavily on his putter. That doesn't mean he can't win on Sunday, but it means he probably won't.
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