Jordan Spieth claims halfway lead at The Open with Ian Poulter firmly in contention

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Jordan Spieth

Jordan Spieth completed a second round of one-under-par 69 on Friday to sit in the lead at six-under at the halfway stage in the British Open at Royal Birkdale.

Having been joint leader overnight at five-under, the American had an eventful day in miserable wet and windy conditions, shooting an eagle, three birdies and four bogeys.

Spieth is two strokes ahead of compatriot Matt Kuchar who followed his opening 65 with a 71 earlier in the day.

England’s Ian Poulter remains firmly in contention after signing for a 70 to lie on three under par, with US Open champion Brooks Koepka also three-under after dropping back from a share of the overnight lead with his 72.

Richie Ramsay of Scotland is two under par, while 2014 Open champion Rory McIlroy is in a small group on one-under.

Provided by AFP Sport

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Dubai-based Rayhan Thomas becomes first Indian to reach US Junior Amateurs semi-finals

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Rayhan Thomas

Dubai-based teenager Rayhan Thomas continued his historic run in the US junior Amateurs on Friday, becoming the first Indian ever to make it to the semi-finals of the tournament that kick-started the remarkable careers of stars like Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth.

At Flint Hills National Golf Club in Andover, Kansas, the 17-year-old Thomas beat American Ryan Smith 2&1 to set up a semi-final clash with Noah Goodwin, last year’s US Junior Amateur runner-up.

MENA Golf Tour star Thomas, now ranked No1 amateur in India at world No85, is making his tournament debut and has been in fine form over what is a long week comprising two rounds of strokeplay, followed by four rounds of match play so far.

The semi-final was scheduled for late last evening, and if he reaches the final today, it would be a 36-hole affair.

Winner of Scottish Boys Amateurs last year, apart from his historic win at Dubai Creek Classic on the MENA Tour, Thomas hasn’t played many tournaments in the US, but that was not a problem for him.

Asked if he was surprised to make it this far in the tournament, a confident Thomas said: “No, not surprised at all. After stroke play, I knew I had what it takes to maybe win this event.

“I just get my confidence from previous tournaments, and not the fact that I haven’t played in Unites States. But I’ve done well at other tournaments. Last year I did really well and won a professional event on my home tour, the MENA Golf Tour, there.

“Yeah, just confidence of that and the hard work I’ve put in to get here.”

In his match against Smith, Thomas was a hole down until the 11th hole, before winning the 12th, 14th and 17th to emerge triumphant.

Earlier, in his round of 16 match, Thomas eagled the drivable par-4 sixth en route to a resounding 5&4 win over Jake Beber-Frankel of Miami. On the 325-yard hole, he smashed a drive that left him with a 20-footer for eagle.

Thomas started the week with rounds of 72 and 69 to finish tied 19th in the strokeplay phase of the championship, thus qualifying easily among the top 64 who made it to the match play.

Quarterfinalists receive an exemption into next year’s US Junior Amateur, which will be held July 16-21 at the famous Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, New Jersey.

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Jon Rahm is in great shape to test his rapid rise in The Open

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King of swing: Jon Rahm. Picture: Getty Images.

There is not much of a secret in Jon Rahm’s remarkable success story – the Spaniard is willing to go to ridiculous lengths in an effort to become better.

Take the example of how he learned to speak English so well. In his first few days at Arizona State University (ASU), Rahm could hardly converse with fellow students in his broken English. So, he came up with a novel method to become fluent – he would meticulously listen to and sing rap songs of Eminem and Kendrick Lamar. Rahm thought it was a fun way of trying to speak quickly and express himself better.

Or, how he practiced – some might say showed off – hitting flop shots with a 6-iron (you read that right) before the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, just because he felt links golf was going to demand creativity with his short game.

Or, despite being a Spaniard, how he decided to cut olive oil completely from his diet when it was found that it was detrimental to his body chemistry.

No wonder he has had a meteoric rise – up to world No8 within a year of turning professional. In 53 weeks he has been in the paid ranks, Rahm has won on both sides of the Atlantic – at Torrey Pines in January and last week’s Irish Open. He also had three close misses this year – at the WGC Match Play and WGC Mexico and Dean & Deluca Invitational.

However, it is not just the past one year that Rahm’s game has taken rapid strides. He reached the No1 ranking in amateur golf before that. Prior to that, he was the only player to have ever received two back-to-back Ben Hogan Awards – given to the top American college golfer. In the 2015/16 NCAA season, he finished inside the top-10 in each and every one of 13 events he played. And his 11 college wins is second best in ASU history – behind the 16 racked up by five-time major champion Phil Mickelson.

Rahm was so good, some people say ASU lost their star coach, Tim Mickelson, brother of Phil, because of him. Last year, the man who was instrumental in getting the Spaniard to the US, quit. Later, as rumour mills had then suggested, he became the manager of Rahm when he turned professional.

It was almost as if history was repeating itself. In early 1990s, Steve Loy, the then ASU coach, resigned and joined his star student, Phil, as his manager.

During Rahm’s college days, Phil remembers a round they played. “I thought I played OK, shot a solid 66, and I still lost like 4&3,” he remembers. “Let’s just say I will only be his partner from now on. I haven’t been able to beat him.”

Rahm shot a 62 that day.

So, how good is Rahm? Well, good enough to send shivers down Mickelson’s spine if they ever face each other in a Ryder Cup match, and good enough to win multiple majors if his game, and his self-belief, is any indicator.

Despite a relatively shortened back-swing, Rahm packs a punch. At an average of 305.1 yards, he hits it farther than most players on the PGA Tour. He is second behind world No1 Dustin Johnson in shots gained – tee to green, and fourth in shots gained – approach the green.

This is literally a ball-striking machine we are talking about. Obviously, he is no slouch with his short game either.

Much like his mentor Phil, Rahm has a go-for-broke philosophy on the golf course. In fact, it came as a surprise to many that he decided to use irons off the tee on several holes at Portstewart last week, but that could also be an indication of his growing maturity and an eagerness to adapt to situations.

The one negative in Rahm is how quickly he tends to become angry on the golf course. That was very evident during the US Open at Erin Hills last month where he missed the cut and was seen throwing and kicking his clubs. However, he has promised to work hard on maintaining an even keel and be a good role model for those watching.

His biggest strength might just be the immense belief he has in his own abilities. It came out after his Irish Open win again.

“I’ve always said I want to be the best player I can be. That’s my goal in golf. Try to be the best Jon, the best golfer I can become, without knowing what the limit is,” he said after lifting the trophy in Ireland.

Royal Birkdale, in a week’s time for The Open, should provide further proof of just how good Rahm is.

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