A month after winning almost a million pounds, Tommy Fleetwood put a free umbrella to good use as he surged into contention to become the first English winner of the Open Championship for 26 years.
Fleetwood defied miserable conditions at Carnoustie to card six birdies in a flawless second round of 65, two shots outside the course record he set in last year’s Dunhill Links Championship.
“It’s no course record but it will do for today,” said Fleetwood, who recorded three birdies on the front nine and three more on the inward half, including on the daunting 18th to finish his round in style.
“Last year’s second round might have been better than this one.”
Fleetwood was the poster boy of last year’s Open at Royal Birkdale, the 27-year-old from Southport admitting the course was “forbidden fruit” which he and his father had to sneak on to when he was a kid.
An opening 76 left him facing a fourth straight missed cut in the Open, but Fleetwood bounced back with a 69 in challenging conditions to make the cut and went on to finish 27th.
⏱️ ROUND IN 60 SECONDS ⏱️
— The Open (@TheOpen) July 20, 2018
“Last year definitely was a bit more difficult than this year in terms of expectation coming very quickly for me and that was a home Open Championship,” Fleetwood added.
“At the moment I’ve put myself high in the world rankings and I’ve had the US Open just recently where I had a great result. With that comes expectation, and with that you have to learn to manage it and handle it. But at the same time it’s much nicer than having no eyes on you at all.”
That was the case as recently as September 2016 when Fleetwood was a lowly 188th in the world, but he reaped the rewards of returning to his former coach Alan Thompson and employing his friend Ian Finnis – the husband of former England women’s goalkeeper Rachel Brown-Finnis – as his caddie.
Fourth in the US Open last year, Fleetwood performed even better at Shinnecock Hills in June, finishing a shot behind defending champion Brooks Koepka after agonisingly missing from eight feet for birdie on the 72nd hole to equal the all-time major record of 62.
A first major title could now beckon on home soil instead and make Fleetwood the first Englishman to lift the Claret Jug since Nick Faldo in 1992.
“It would be very special,” the world number 10 added. “I can’t lie about it. If I could pick one tournament in my life to win, it would be the Open. I’ve never been anywhere near before.
— The Open (@TheOpen) July 20, 2018
“We’re only halfway through the tournament unfortunately. There’s no point thinking about the end game. Thirty six holes is a long time. Today’s been a round where I’ve put myself back in the tournament and I’ve just got to move on from there really.
“If I can hit it like I did today, then obviously I’m going to have a lot of chances coming in over the weekend and we’ll see where that takes me.”
As for that bright yellow umbrella which attracted so much attention, Fleetwood revealed: “We got one given for free actually. We don’t always carry an umbrella as we don’t have a sponsor. So it just so happens this week that we’ve got a nice Open Championship brolly. It looked quite nice.”
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Kisner, who led by a shot after 54 holes of last year’s US PGA before finishing seventh, carded a five-under-par 66 to secure a one-shot lead over compatriot Tony Finau and the South African pair of Erik van Rooyen and Zander Lombard.
McIlroy, who is seeking a first major title since 2014, was part of a large group on two under par which also included Spain’s Jon Rahm, world number two Justin Thomas, 2015 winner Zach Johnson and the English pair of Danny Willett and Matthew Southgate.
Tiger Woods had arrived at the course with Kinesio Tape visible on the back of his neck, a worrying sign given the 42-year-old’s litany of injury problems in recent seasons.
But although the 14-time major winner visibly winced after hitting his opening tee shot, that appeared to be the result of getting some dust from the dry ground in his eye and he went on to make an ideal start with a birdie from 10 feet.
Woods, who has not won a major since the 2008 US Open, also birdied the fourth and followed a bogey on the 10th with another birdie from 35 feet on the next, but dropped shots on the 13th and 15th and had to settle for a level-par 71.
“I thought I played a pretty solid round and unfortunately didn’t take care of both par fives and hit (an) eight iron to both of them,” said Woods, who described his stiff neck as “no big deal.”
“The round could certainly have been a little better,” he added.
Kisner is sharing accommodation with defending champion Jordan Spieth, Thomas, Jason Dufner, Johnson, Jimmy Walker – with eight major titles between them – and Rickie Fowler, with only Fowler and Kisner still seeking their first major success.
But while Spieth slipped from three under to one over by dropping four shots in the last four holes, including a trip into the Barry Burn on 18, Kisner had no such problems thanks to an eagle, four birdies and a solitary bogey.
“It’s not intimidating at all,” Kisner, who also shared Spieth’s plane home after his victory at Royal Birkdale last year, said of his housemates. “They’re all great people. That’s the best part about it.”
Van Rooyen, who failed to convert a four-shot lead after 54 holes of the Irish Open a fortnight ago, carded five birdies and dropped his only shot of the day on the tough closing hole.
“It was playing as easy as it was going to play this whole week this morning, no wind at all, so you had to go out and take advantage of it,” said Van Rooyen.
“I was obviously a little nervous, you know, but that’s natural. I’m really proud of how I handled it.”
McIlroy hit just four of 15 fairways but pledged to continue taking an aggressive approach in pursuit of his second Claret Jug.
“I didn’t see the fairway much but as long as you don’t hit it in the fairway bunkers you’re always going to have a shot at the green,” the 29-year-old Northern Irishman said.
“It wasn’t pretty off the tee but I got it done and I took advantage of some unfortunate bounces. I would have taken 69 to start the day.”
Fourteen-time major winner Woods is playing in the tournament for the first time in three years after recovering from a succession of back surgeries.
Woods, 42, transformed golf’s commercial appeal by dominating the sport in his early career and Player would like to see American return to his very best.
The 82-year-old said: “My big wish would be that he would win because Tiger Woods is responsible for these guys playing for a million every week.
“I think Tiger captures the young people, which we need in this game desperately at the moment. If he can bring this, it enhances the game and brings more young people into the game.
“He brings more people, the sponsors are delighted, the public are delighted and the media are delighted because you are still in awe of him.
“I think Tiger Woods will win another tournament and I hope he will win another major because we desperately need him to do that for the sake of the game. I sincerely hope he plays well.”
Player, however, feels there is downside to attracting more sponsors because some players are earning figures far exceeding their achievements.
The nine-time major winner said: “We wanted a man to play in our charity event at Wentworth one year – he wanted 500,000 dollars for the one day.
“We’ve got to be very careful that we don’t kill the goose that laid the golden egg. Managers have got to be realistic and realise that every golfer playing has a debt to society.
“Tiger Woods was paid millions of dollars. He deserved it because he was in a league of his own and he went there, brought the people in.
“But when you see an ordinary player who’s never won a major asking for 500,000 dollars or more, it’s a very sad day.”
Player was speaking at a specially-arranged press conference at Carnoustie to mark the 50th anniversary of the second of his three Open victories, which came at the Angus links.
Despite his wish for Woods to win, the South African accepts this week’s tournament is wide open.
He said: “The way the golf course is set at the moment, as the conditions are, anybody who plays in this tournament could win.”