Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have played a lot of golf together over the past two decades. But Friday brought something new for them. For the first time, Woods and Mickelson missed the cut at the same major tournament.
Though the course played a little easier on Friday, two of the biggest names in golf continued to find Royal Portrush to be less a matter of tee to green than of tee to rough, then to deeper rough, then to absurdly deeper rough.
Woods, who returned to the top of the game in style with a Masters win this year, buried himself on Thursday with a seven-over 78. Though he managed four birdies on Friday, he added three bogeys, including on the last two holes, for a 70 to finish five strokes from the cut line. His woes on No. 17 were typical. A drive into the rough on the left, a second shot into worse greenside rough and eventually a long missed par putt.
“One of the hardest things to accept as an older athlete is that you’re not going to be as consistent as you were at 23,” said Woods, 43. “I will win tournaments. But there are times when I’m just not going to be there.”
Rory McIlroy, who broke the course record at Portrush at age 16, and Mickelson also shot themselves out of the tournament on Thursday and looked for respectability on Friday, if not a pass to the weekend. For Mickelson, at least, there was not much improvement: He shot a 74 to go with his opening 76.
While many players continued to struggle off the tee and with the tangled rough, some managed to tame the course.
The clubhouse leaders were J.B. Holmes and Shane Lowry.
Holmes, 37, is a five-time Tour winner without a major title. He added a three-under 68 on Friday to his 66 on Thursday to move to eight under par.
Should Holmes go on to win, he would complete an American sweep of this year’s golf majors, something that hasn’t happened since 1982.
Lowry, of Ireland, fired birdies on five of his first eight holes, then cooled off, and eventually bogeyed 18 after a barely missed par putt to finish in a tie with Holmes instead of in the outright lead.
Tommy Fleetwood of Britain was also an early star, and was easy to spot with his long hair and eye-catching black and white splash-patterned shirt. He started the day at three under and pushed that to seven under with a six-birdie, two-bogey 67 that finished with a 15-foot birdie putt on 18.
The Guardian reported that Holmes, Fleetwood or Lowry could become the first bearded winner of the Open since Bob Ferguson in 1882.
Fleetwood, 28, was runner-up to Brooks Koepka at the United States Open last year and has won four times on the European Tour. But he may be remembered best by American golf fans for his 4-0 record in team play as Europe won last fall’s Ryder Cup.
“It seemed like a much more scoreable morning, but the course doesn’t allow for many birdies, so you have to be patient,” he told the BBC.
As for his bold shirt choice, he said, “I thought it was normal, but I’ve had more comments than I thought I would out on the course, so maybe I am more colorful than I thought.”
Fleetwood’s countryman Lee Westwood joined him at seven under after a bogey-free four-under round, highlighted by a lengthy putt from the fringe on 16. Westwood, 46, has been an elite golfer for years, but has always fallen short at majors, sometimes agonizingly so.
Koepka, the world No. 1 and winner of four of the last 10 majors, shot a two-under 69 and finished at five under.
Jordan Spieth, 25, a three-time major winner, shot a four under, despite missing a 10-foot birdie putt on No. 18. He also moved to five under for the tournament.
Victor Mather is a general assignment sports reporter and editor.
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