Americans Zach Johnson and Kevin Kisner will take a one-shot into the weekend of the 147th Open Championship after a mostly rain-soaked second round, which has seen some of the world’s top-ranked golfers miss the cut.
The pair has reached six under through 36 holes, one stroke clear of countrymen Xander Schauffele and Pat Perez as well as England’s Tommy Fleetwood, who stormed into contention with a six under 65.
Crowd favourite Rory McIlroy and last year’s runner-up Matt Kuchar are in a group of five players a further stroke back at four under. In all, there are 28 players under par and within five shots of the lead.
Johnson was out early in the morning when the weather conditions were at their worst, as persistent rain made playing golf uncomfortable. But the rain also softened up what had been a fiery fast-running Carnoustie and the 2015 Open Champion too full advantage.
The 42-year-old started slowly with a bogey on the 1st hole but he was almost faultless over the remaining 17 holes, carding five birdies for a four under 67 to go with his opening round 69.
“I probably played equally as well yesterday,” Johnson said. “I thought the conditions … I guess there was some rain, but I felt they were more manageable today, more manageable in the sense that you could predict where your ball would end up off of the tee easier because of the rain.
“I hit my worst shot of the day in the 1st tee box, which was awful. Deserved a bogey, but it wasn't a bad bogey, considering where I hit my tee shot.
“Then the birdie on 3 was nice, just in the sense that it kind of gave me a little momentum. Two quality shots, good putt, and off I went from there.”
The widely experienced Johnson, who also won the 2007 Masters and has 26 professional wins on his resume, says the Open Championship is probably the major best-suited to his game.
“My first three starts in the Open I missed the cut. Yes, I did. And the main reason is because I feel like this championship more than any tournament completely magnifies exactly what I need to work on, my strengths and my weaknesses." – Zach Johnson
“I think my game lends itself to this championship because my style can play here. I'm sure everybody does that. I play the holes backwards. I take what the golf course gives me, and I try to execute,” said Johnson, who has made 11 consecutive cuts at The Open..
“You've still got to hit good shots. Even though you know what you need to do, you've still got to hit a good shot. Is there some risk/reward at times, or are you pushing it sometimes? Absolutely.
“My first three starts in the Open I missed the cut. Yes, I did. And the main reason is because I feel like this championship more than any tournament completely magnifies exactly what I need to work on, my strengths and my weaknesses.
“Everybody says you've got to hit it low, knock down, punch it in. Yeah, you do. You've got to use the ground. You've got to know where to land it, all of the above. But you've got to hit it high. You've got to hit it left. You've got to hit it right. You've got to hold it. You've got to turn it, use the wind. You've got to do everything.
“Once I learned that I just gravitated towards this style of golf.”
Johnson was dry and in the clubhouse before Kisner, the 18-hole leader, took to the course. Kisner reached seven under through nine holes, suffered a setback with a bogey on the 10th, and made two more birdies at the 13th and 14th to reach eight under and was two strokes clear of the field.
The 34-year-old was playing beautifully and looked likely to start the third round with at least a two-stroke lead as he stood on the 18th tee.
“I don't really know where to hit an iron off that tee really. It's like 270 yards to carry the burn up the right, so that's a driver for me. It's been a driver every time I stepped on, and it will be a driver unless I have a three-shot lead on Sunday." – Kevin Kisner.
But an errant drive on the tough par-4 saw his ball finish in thick rough left of the fairway and he was left with 160 yards to the green and 150 yards to carry Barry Burn that cuts the 18th fairway in two. But he failed to carry the water with his second shot and finished with a double bogey to fall back to six under.
“Didn't think I would hit that in the burn with an 8-iron but just didn't come out the way I saw it,” Kisner confessed.
“With an 8-iron thinking it would come out pretty quickly. Just making sure it wouldn't turn my club over to the left. But it just came out like high flop shot to the right. It was weird. I don't know if it caught something or what happened.
“You never know out of that grass. It was in a different grass than usual. It was wet, green grass instead of the brown grass. So I hadn't really played from that too much.”
Sitting on a two-stroke lead, Kisner said he didn’t really consider using an iron to hit the 18th fairway to protect his outright lead.
“I don't really know where to hit an iron off that tee really. It's like 270 yards to carry the burn up the right, so that's a driver for me. It's been a driver every time I stepped on, and it will be a driver unless I have a three-shot lead on Sunday,” said Kisner, referencing Jean Van de Velde’s 1999 meltdown on the same hole when he needed to make six to win The Open.
“But I'm not sure where I'd hit it except maybe down 17 fairway or something. I'd take it where I drove it today with a three-shot lead. I'd probably play it a little differently, though.”
The 36-hole cut fell at three over and saw some big names, including three of the top-five ranked players in the world, checking out of Carnoustie on Friday night.
World No.1 Dustin Johnson had a one over 72 to finished at six over while World No.2 Justin Thomas had a second round meltdown with a six over 77 that saw him finish one shot outside the cut at four over.
Thomas began his Open campaign well with a two under 69 and was just three shots from the lead when he teed off in his second round. But three consecutive double bogies starting at the par-5 6th derailed his championship.
World No.5 Jon Rahm lost his head midway through the second round, having reached three under and a share of third early. He hit his drive out-of-bounds on the par-4 7th and eventually tapped in for a triple bogey. The Spaniard dropped another four shots by the time he stood on the 13th tee, his temper in check but his Open chances gone. He missed the cut by two shots having shot a four over 75.
World No.3 Justin Rose almost joined the early departures from Carnoustie. Having made just two birdies through 35 holes, the Englishman rolled in a 12-footer for birdie on the 18th to continue his campaign into the weekend.