By Simon Evans
PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland (Reuters) – Overnight leader J.B Holmes maintained his challenge at the British Open with a second-round 68 on Friday as a mass of players positioned themselves for a for a weekend charge.
Former world number one Tiger Woods will not be joining them, however, despite an improvement on his opening day 78.
Four birdies offered him hope but a bogey at the 17th left the 15-times major champion five over with a one to play and the cut expected to come in at one over.
After his five-under 66 on the opening day at Royal Portrush, American Holmes gathered five more birdies to move to eight-under heading into the weekend.
As he walked off the 18th green in the rain he shared the lead with Ireland’s Shane Lowry who began his second round in scintillating fashion with four birdies in his first six holes.
England’s Tommy Fleetwood moved to within a stroke of the mid-afternoon lead with a second-round 67.
Fleetwood, who grew up playing links golf at Southport, delighted the crowd with a birdie on the 18th and he acknowledged the support by doffing his cap.
“Yesterday I felt like I was a lot more stress-free than today,” the popular Fleetwood said. “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.”
Fellow Englishman Lee Westwood, who has 18 top-10 finishes in majors without winning one, rolled back the years to move to seven under after a round of 67.
Westwood, 47, drained a monster birdie putt at the 16th and conjured up another birdie at 17 to move into the mix.
Justin Rose was another Englishman on the move, climbing up the leaderboard to six under playing the 18th.
With the winds down and the greens soft early, groups took advantage, none more so than South Africa’s Justin Harding who put together a superb 65 to move to six under.
Australian Cameron Smith’s 66 moved him to six under.
World number one Brooks Koepka suffered another cool day with the putter but is lurking ominously on five under after a two-under 69 in his second round.
“Right where I want to be and close enough to make a run this weekend,” Koepka, winner of four majors since 2017, said.
With heavy rain falling, scoring conditions were expected to become more tricky later in the day when local favourite Rory McIlroy will attempt the seemingly impossible by making the cut despite his opening round 79.
(Reporting by Simon Evans, editing by Ed Osmond)