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Open Championship: 10 things to know about Cameron Smith, Rory McIlroy and more

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The anticipation leading up to this year’s Open Championship was gigantic. Over two rounds, strong seeding helped the event live up to the hype.

Friday provided a bit of everything – from Tiger Woods showing emotion after speeding across the Swilcan Bridge past screaming fans in the afternoon in response to stunning photos of some of the world’s best. Here are the key notes to know from Round 2 of The Open Championship at St. Andrews:

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1. A scorching day on the greens fueled the lowest round of by Cameron Smith career in the major championships, giving him a two-shot lead at the start of the weekend. The Aussie star made over 250 feet of putts in his round, earning over 6 1/2 strokes on the ground while putting. At 13 under par, Smith recorded the best score over 36 holes in two sets of an open championship held at St. Andrews.

This is Smith’s second time in charge or co-lead of a major championship. At the 2020 Masters, Smith was tied with four other players halfway before Dustin Johnson stepped on the accelerator at the weekend and won. This is the fifth consecutive Open at The Old Course where there is an outright leader over 36 holes – three of the previous four have won (Woods in 2000 and 2005, Louis Oosthuizen in 2010).

The only player to win The Players Championship and The Open in the same season was Jack Nicklauswho did in 1978. That year, the Open was also held in St. Andrews.

2. Cameron Young continued his terrific Open debut, finishing with a 69 in the second round. He’ll be in the final duo on Saturday with Smith, two shots off the lead. At under 11, Young tied the record for the lowest 36-hole score tied by anyone in his first Open Championship start. In 1982, then aged 22 Bobby Clampet had 11 under through 36 holes at Royal Troon before eventually finishing tied for 10th.

It’s only the second cut Young has made in his brief major championship career, but the big stage didn’t surprise him the first time around. Young shot 67-71 the weekend earlier this year at Southern Hills to finish tied for third place. The potential PGA Tour Rookie of the Year is bidding to become the fifth player to make his Open debut at St. Andrews and win, and the first man to do so in 58 years.

3. Rory McIlroy started his second lap by tipping his cap to Woods as he moved up the 18th at The Old Course. McIlroy spent the rest of his afternoon working to join Woods as Open champion on these hallowed grounds. McIlroy was 10 under on the week as he left the 12th green on Friday, marking the first time since the 2011 US Open that he had hit double figures under par through 30 holes of a major. It’s the first time he’s minus-10 or better going into the third set of a major tournament since last winning the Open in 2014.

McIlroy has no problem turning that into a shootout at St. Andrews this weekend: In each of his PGA and DP World Tour victories in his career, the winning score has been double digits under par. McIlroy’s average score in his four major wins is 15.5 under – the lowest average for a player with multiple major wins since the first Masters in 1934.

4. Victor Hovland has professed he can struggle with his short game. The stats also articulate that: Entering this week, Hovland is ranked last on the Tour in strokes gained around the green per round. You would think that Hovland and some of the most infamous and penalizing bunkers in all of golf would be a mismatch this week.

One way to eliminate those bunkers from the equation is to shake up your approach shot from 139 yards, like Hovland did at 15 on Friday to break into the top five. Even more significant – a hole later he landed a brilliant shot from a greenside bunker and was able to save his par. Tied with McIlroy at 10 under, it’s the first time Hovland has finished in the top 15 at the start of the weekend in a major championship.

5. Seven years ago, Johnson looked set to pick up what would have been his first big win at St. Andrews. A month after the heartbreak at Chambers Bay, Johnson appeared to be in full control over two rounds at the Open, leading by a stroke early in the weekend. After not hitting a single bunker for two days, he went 1-of-5 in sand saves on the weekend, had a pair of 75s and finished 11 shots on the three-man playoff.

Johnson is once again part of the script. After two rounds, he has the lowest score of the LIV Golf contingent and he finished with the highest score of the toughest half of the draw. Being in the mix for two days is nothing new for Johnson: It’s the 15th time since 2010 that he’s finished in the top five within two rounds of a major, the most of any player in that span . It is the ninth time it has opened a major tournament with back-to-back rounds in the 60s, with the highest number of players being in the last 25 years.

6. Speaking of these score waves, the differential was not negligible over the course of two days. Players who exited at the start/end of the draw averaged a total score of 143.7 over 36 holes, about 1.4 strokes less than their counterparts on the other side.

seven. Reigning World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler is five off the pace in two rounds and still on the pace as he tries to become the first since Woods in 2005 to win the Masters and Open in the same season. Scheffler started the week with two rounds of 68, the fourth world No. 1 to start an Open at St. Andrews with two rounds in the 60s. Two of them won (Woods in 2000 and 2005), one no did not win (Greg Norman in 1990). Scheffler touched every green in regulation time on Friday, the first time in his great career that he has done so.

Then there’s this: Since the start of 2020, no player has been better on weekends in majors than Scheffler, who is 17 under in Rounds 3 and 4 of majors this span, the best of all players.

8. Possibly playing at his final St. Andrews Open, Woods was visibly emotional as he was cheered on by the crowd surrounding the 18th hole on Friday. Woods rewrote the record books perhaps more than anyone in golf history. For example, only two players have won multiple major men’s championships by five strokes or more on the same course – Young Tom Morris at Prestwick in 1869 and 1870, and Woods at St. Andrews in 2000 and 2005.

Although Woods went home Friday with a 75, he saw some good golf in his group. Defending US Open Champion Matt Fitzpatrick shot 66 on Friday, tying the lowest round ever recorded at the Open by a player in the same group as Woods. Nick Price and Jason Day also shot 66s with Woods, in 1998 and 2015, respectively.

9. Three seems to be the magic number when it comes to looking for potential winners at this stage of the championship. Fourteen of the last 15 Open champions at St. Andrews were within or within three strokes of the lead over 36 holes. The same goes for 11 of the last 13 Open winners and 14 of the last 15 champions in all men’s majors. Additionally, the last seven Open winners at St. Andrews were T-4 or better in the third round. Is it really a four-horse race at the midpoint?

ten. A few other notable contenders don’t think so. Among them is Tyrrell Hatton, who won the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at St. Andrews twice during his career on the DP World Tour. Hatton, who is five strokes off the pace, is averaging 67.5 points at the Old Course in this event. Ten years after dropping the Claret Jug at Royal Lytham, Adam Scott shot a bogey-free 65 Friday morning. It was his fifth career bogey-free round at the Open, the most of any player in the last 25 years.

Since 1900, 11.8% of Open champions have gone five strokes or more over 36 holes.

(Photo by Cameron Smith: Michael Madrid/USA Today)

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