Housemates Zach Johnson and Kevin Kisner set the pace in the 147th Open Championship as Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy headed the European bid to end American dominance of golf’s majors.
Johnson, who is looking to become the first player in history to win major titles at Augusta, St Andrews and Carnoustie, added a 67 to his opening 69 to set the clubhouse target on six under par.
First-round leader Kisner looked set to surpass that with ease when he birdied the 13th and 14th to reach eight under, only to hit his second shot to the 18th into the Barry Burn and run up a double-bogey six.
That meant Fleetwood was just a shot off the lead after earlier defying miserable conditions to card the only bogey-free round of the day, his flawless 65 just two shots outside the course record he set in last year’s Dunhill Links Championship.
Americans Pat Perez and Xander Schauffele were alongside Fleetwood on five under, with McIlroy joined on four under by last year’s runner-up Matt Kuchar, Tony Finau and the South African duo Erik van Rooyen and Zander Lombard.
Johnson won the Masters in 2007 and the Open at St Andrews in 2015 by beating Louis Oosthuizen and Marc Leishman in a play-off, but came into the week firmly under the radar.
“I don’t know who is managing the radar. It is irrelevant to me,” said the 42-year-old, who is sharing accommodation at the Open for the third year in succession with Kisner, defending champion Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jimmy Walker, Jason Dufner and Rickie Fowler.
“Maybe I’m just overly conservative and boring and that’s perfectly fine. I just like to compete. It doesn’t matter where it is, what it is. Just give me an opportunity.”
Kisner and Fowler are the only housemates yet to win a major, but Kisner insists it is not an intimidating situation.
“I learned that everybody’s going through the same stuff and trying to shoot the lowest score possible and everybody puts their pants on the same way I do,” the 34-year-old said.
“They just won a few more times than I have and probably got a couple more zeros in their bank account.”
Brooks Koepka’s second straight US Open victory last month means American players still hold all four major titles, but Fleetwood finished just a shot behind at Shinnecock Hills 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 said. “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.
“We’re only halfway through the tournament, unfortunately. There’s no point thinking about the end game. Thirty-six holes is a long time.”
McIlroy has certainly not been at his brilliant best so far, but kept himself firmly in the hunt with a round containing four birdies and two bogeys.
“I feel like there are low rounds in me,” the 29-year-old said. “If I can get on a run or get off to a fast start in the next couple of days, I definitely see something like a 66 or a 65. I think I’m capable of that.”
Defending champion Spieth and Fowler are just three shots off the lead, with Tiger Woods six adrift after a second successive 71.
Jordan Spieth admits the enormity of being crowned Open champion 12 months ago hit him like a punch “in the gut”.
The American won his third major, and his first Claret Jug, courtesy of an eventful final round in which he lost and then regained the lead with a run of birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie-par over his closing five holes to edge out Ryder Cup team-mate Matt Kuchar.
Spieth said the 72nd-green announcement of him becoming Champion Golfer of the Year was like being hit in the stomach – in a good way.
“When those words were spoken on the green at Birkdale, it just kind of hit me,” he said ahead of his arrival at Carnoustie for the 147th Open Championship.
“It was almost like someone had kind of punched me in the gut in the best way possible.
“Just you need to realise how special this is and embrace what it means.
“I look forward to teeing it up at Carnoustie, having those chills go through me as I step to the first tee and remember the year before, and obviously get focused and try to do it again.”
His fears were confirmed as he was forced to take a penalty for an unplayable lie, which was when things got interesting.
He spent the next 20 minutes looking for a suitable dropping area which resulted in him heading to the driving range, smashing a blind shot over the equipment trucks and into a greenside bunker from where he made a bogey.
It made for enthralling viewing, something which Spieth had to relive himself 24 hours later.
“I got home to Dallas the next day, and I couldn’t help but turn on the final round and fast-forward until the tee-shot on 13,” he added.
“I was like ‘I don’t even know exactly what happened on that tee-shot’ and then from there, after five minutes looking for the ball, I got pretty annoyed.
“For me it went by pretty quickly because it was ‘Okay, decision here, decision here, now I need to drop here, now I need…but with the coverage, with the commercials, they come back and it seems like we haven’t even moved.
“That was kind of tough to watch. I had no idea where that third shot actually landed until I watched the coverage.
“It was kind of funny, for me, as from the tee-shot to the third shot everything went faster than what it seemed when I was watching it.
“But then after the 13th hole, everything went slower to me than on TV.”
Such a recovery may not be possible this time around as Carnoustie has a sting in the tail, as 71-hole leader Jean van de Velde famously discovered when he took off his shoes and socks as he contemplated hitting his third shot out of the Barry Burn on his way to eventually losing a play-off to Paul Lawrie.
“I don’t have any memory of the ’99 Open, unfortunately.
“But 2007, I definitely do. I remember watching Sergio (Garcia) and Padraig (Harrington) going at it and I remember that 18th hole.
“That was kind of the height of me starting to fall in love with the game and travel and play.”
Phil Mickelson conceded he does a lot of “dumb stuff” after speaking at length for the first time about his controversial penalty during the US Open.
The five-time major winner was four over par for his third round at Shinnecock Hills when he badly over-hit a putt on the 13th and, seeing that it would roll off the green, prevented that from occurring by running after his ball and hitting it while it was still moving.
A number of fellow professionals felt Mickelson should have been disqualified for a serious breach of etiquette, but the left-hander was given a two-shot penalty for breaking rule 14-5 and eventually finished joint 48th.
Mickelson told critics of his actions to “toughen up” after claiming he was simply using the rules to his advantage, but a few days later sent a message to a handful of American journalists offering his apologies.
The 48-year-old was also penalised for tapping down some long grass in front of a tee during last week’s Greenbrier Classic and, speaking after an opening round of 70 in the ASI Scottish Open, said: “I’ve had a rough month. I haven’t been my best. So I’m working at trying to fix that.
“I made a big mistake (at the US Open) and I wish I could take it back, but I can’t. There’s not much I can do about it now other than just try to act a little better.
“The thing about this is throughout my career, 25 years, there have been a lot of times where I have had to be accountable for decisions I did not make. And the reason why this has actually been easier is it was my own fault.
“The backlash is my own fault. So it’s much easier to deal with than some of the times where I have not been involved in the decisions and had to deal with that.
“You have to be accountable for yourself. I do a lot of dumb stuff, right.
I have these moments where I’m like in a cloud, if you will, I’m not really sure what I’m doing or I’m just kind of going through the motions and not really aware at the moment, and I’ve done that a bunch in my career.”
Asked if his actions at the US Open were intended as a protest against the way the USGA had set up the course, Mickelson added: “There was just a bunch of stuff. But I had to let that go. It took me a few days to kind of let it go.
“Not only was I not great on the course, I was not great after the round, either. So it was just not a great day, and it was my birthday. So I tend to do dumb stuff on my birthday, too.
“At the time I was pretty angry. The way I show anger is not the traditionally accepted way of, you know, throwing clubs and berating the fans and marshals. I tend to be a little more passive aggressive in my actions, and that was kind of what I was doing.”
Mickelson also revealed that his potential 10 million-dollar (£7.5million) shootout with Tiger Woods is “close to having some stuff finalised”, but that he and Woods would not be putting up the money themselves.
“I would hope for a sponsor,” he said with a smile.