Despite an errant tee shot on the 16th on Friday which led to Louis Oosthuizen’s first bogey of the 149th Open Championship, the South African marched on to the 36-hole lead at Royal St George’s in Sandwich, Kent.
His five-under-par 65 came on the back of precision ball striking, deadly accuracy and putting of the highest quality, which made the bogey even more startling. But it was still good enough to take him to 11-under-par for the championship, the lowest-ever 36-hole aggregate in Open Championship history, and two shots clear of his nearest challenger, Collin Morikawa of the United States.
“I made a horrible mistake on 16,” said Oosthuizen after his round. “I wasn’t ready to hit that shot. I wanted to know one more thing in my head, and that happens. It was a mental mistake. I nearly made the putt but made bogey there.”
Balancing out that mistake was a run of birdie-birdie-eagle from the 12th to the 14th which underlined just why he’s in the lead.
“On 12 I hit three-wood off the tee and I had just a perfect distance for a spinny little lob wedge for that pin, and I got it really good on that one,” he said. “On 13, it was a good drive. It looked like it didn’t want to come off those traps and ended up just missing the traps on the left. Good eight-iron to about 12, 15 feet, I think. Made the putt.
“On 14, hit three-wood off the tee and was just a good solid four-iron in. I didn’t think I was going to get to the green. We just wanted to play it to somewhere short there, and it took a nice hop getting on to the green and I rolled in a really nice putt.”
The ease with which he seemed to be playing before the bogey made the dropped shot a puzzling aberration. The 16th was the second-easiest hole on the course in the second round, so, when Oosthuizen pushed his tee-shot into the greenside bunker, it came as a surprise. It was especially surprising since he found the greens in regulation 80 percent of the time so far this week. That’s the eighth best in the field.
Add that reliability when it comes to being in a position to putt for birdie to statistics that show his work at cleaning up his putting has paid off, and it’s clear that Oosthuizen needs to implode over the weekend if he is to be caught. He is averaging 1.51 putts per hole, and that’s the best putting average in the field.
With six runner-up spots in major championships, including in the two most recent ones at the PGA Championship and the US Open, Oosthuizen of all people knows not to put too much significance in his halfway lead.
“You try not to think of it until you’ve done it,” he said. “I remember looking back at 2010 when I won the Open, and I know I had a big lead, but the first time I really thought I could win the tournament was after my tee shot on 17. Around this golf course, a lot of things can happen. I don’t think you want to think too much of it on a links course until you get to that 18th green, and hopefully you have a lead.”
Lurking dangerously just one shot behind Morikawa is 2017 champion Jordan Spieth who looks to have regained his appetite for winning major championships.
And Dylan Frittelli, a late replacement for the unfortunate Louis de Jager, has grabbed his chance with both hands to be in a share of fourth on seven-under after his second-round of three-under 67. He shares fourth with world number two Dustin Johnson and his fellow-American Scottie Scheffler.