McCARTHY: Oosthuizen hangs on to Open lead; Canadians Hughes, Conners in contention

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No major championship epitomizes the random nature of the game of golf like the Open Championship.

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Players travelled to the southwest coast of England armed with rain gear and lip balm to battle wind and storm. By Friday afternoon they were enjoying a sunny golf course and pleasant breeze fit for a British holiday.

As a result, Royal St George’s, one of the toughest courses in the Open rota, has offered little defence against the world’s best golfers through 36 holes at the season’s final major.

Louis Oosthuizen has the lead at 11-under after shooting 65-64 to set a 36-hole Open scoring record of 129.

Players who teed off late Thursday for their opening rounds have been the only ones to get even a taste of what St George’s usually offers. For reference, just once in 14 previous championships at the famed course in Sandwich, Kent, has the winning score been lower than five-under par. That came in 1993 when Greg Norman won the second of his two Open Championships with a score of 13-under. This week, Oosthuizen has nearly reached Norman’s mark at the mid-way point.

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It comes as no surprise to viewers of the past two majors that the sweet-swinging South African heads to the weekend with the lead. Coming off second-place finishes at both the PGA Championship and the U.S. Open, the 38-year-old seems determined to do one better this time; but he’s not getting ahead of himself.

“Around this golf course, a lot of things can happen,” Oosthuizen said after his round. “I don’t think you want to think too much of it on a links course until you get to that 18th green (on Sunday), and hopefully you have a lead.”

Oosthuizen followed up Thursday’s six-under 64 with a five-under 65 on Friday to reach 11-under, good for a two-stroke lead over 2020 PGA champion Collin Morikawa (64).

“To have any record at the Open or part of any record at the Open is always very special,” Oosthuizen said after his round. “I’ve played really good the last two days. I probably played a bit better yesterday in the conditions we were playing in, but today 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.”

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Oosthuizen won the 2010 Open at St Andrews and since then has been runner-up six times at majors. His beautifully rhythmic yet powerful swing has been the envy of many for years, but this season he’s also the PGA Tour’s No. 1 putter by a wide margin — a deadly combination if there ever was one.

As well as Oosthuizen is playing and as sweet as the redemption story would be, the Open Championship has a habit of flipping scripts.

Another redemption story, Jordan Spieth (67) sits alone in third place at eight-under. The three-time major champ’s most recent big win came four years ago at this championship at Royal Birkdale. He didn’t win anywhere again until the Valero Texas Open this spring, and he’s looking to complete his major comeback this week. With more sun on the way, Spieth expects the course to play faster and firmer over the weekend.

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“With the forecasted conditions being sunshine and less wind, I imagine they’ll let them firm up because that will be the defense of the golf course,” Spieth said.

One shot behind Spieth at seven-under are Dustin Johnson (65), Scottie Scheffler (66), and Dylan Fritelli (67).

HUGHES IN CONTENTION

A month after playing in the final group at the U.S. Open, Canadian Mackenzie Hughes is back in contention at a major.

The 30-year-old followed Thursday’s four-under 66 with a one-under 69 and heads to the weekend tied for 12th at five-under.

“I just felt like I was a tick off, and I didn’t have the same control and good feels I had yesterday,” Hughes said after his round. “I did a pretty good job of managing my way around and put myself on the greens and just trying to make a lot of two-putt pars and just try to be as stress-free as possible. But this golf course can bite you at any moment.”

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Hughes said par saves from hole Nos. 4-6 kept his round afloat before a birdie at the seventh got the Dundas, Ont., native headed in the right direction.

The experience gained being in contention at Torrey Pines last month can only help as Hughes tries to win his first major championship.

“I think you’re always going to feel nervous and want to do well, but I think that it’s about embracing the nerves,” Hughes said. “I think just being there at Torrey Pines just gives me a bit more comfort and I guess ease, and I guess kind of playing somewhat near the lead in a major. Just going to keep drawing on those same feels and same emotions.”

Hughes is in a star-studded group of five golfers tied at five-under that includes four-time major winner Brooks Koepka (66), U.S. Open champ Jon Rahm (64), Englishman Paul Casey (67), and Cameron Tringale (66).

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Corey Conners shot his second straight two-under 66 and is tied for 17th at four-under.

Adam Hadwin and Richard T. Lee missed the cut.

CHIP SHOTS
Koepka kept golf’s soap opera going on Friday when he took a moment during his post-round interview to gush about his driver. “Drove the ball great. Love my driver,” he told Golf Channel’s Todd Lewis. On Thursday, Bryson DeChambeau had to apologize to his equipment sponsor Cobra after saying his driver “sucks.” Fans will remember it was also Lewis who was interviewing Koepka in the infamous eye-roll video leak. … The largest man at this year’s Open had the best shot of the week so far. Englishman Jonathan Thomson, who stand 6-foot-9, aced the par-3 16th hole on Friday. The 25-year-old overcame leukemia as child and made it into the field last month through final qualifying. The big man heads to the weekend at two-under.

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