Once again, South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen finds himself in contention at a major championship.
Oosthuizen’s 36-hole total of 129 at The Open at Royal St. George’s is the second-best scoring total through two rounds at a major in history; Brooks Koepka‘s 36-hole total at the 2019 PGA Championship was 128.
If Oosthuizen is going to win The Open for a second time, and 11 years after he won his first, he’ll have to hold off some of the sport’s best players. Collin Morikawa is only 2 shots back, Jordan Spieth is 3 behind and Dustin Johnson is 4 back. Koepka and Jon Rahm are also within striking distance at 5 under.
Can Oosthuizen finally do it?
Oosthuizen’s familiar spot
When Oosthuizen won his only major at The Open at St. Andrews in 2010, he didn’t start thinking about hoisting the Claret Jug until his tee shot on the 17th hole of the final round.
He beat Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy by 7 shots.
“You try not to think of it until you’ve done it,” Oosthuizen said.
The South African knows that better than most. He has finished runner-up a whopping six times in majors since winning at St. Andrews, including a tie for second at this year’s PGA Championship (lost to Phil Mickelson by 2 shots) and solo second at the U.S. Open (lost to Jon Rahm by a stroke).
“I don’t know,” Oosthuizen said. “I think in a few of them I needed to play just that little bit better coming down the stretch. U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, that wasn’t the easiest golf course to go the last five, six holes trying to get a birdie. You were sort of just playing making pars, and obviously Jon finished with those two unbelievable putts he made, and all of a sudden now I’m chasing. So that was difficult to find birdies to try and win the championship.
“Having said [that], I played well enough where I could have probably been a little bit more aggressive on a few occasions. It’s just I don’t think I would have done a lot different in a lot of them.”
Oosthuizen will have a chance to try to close the door again this weekend, after he opened a 2-shot lead over Morikawa after the second round. His 36-hole scoring total of 129 is the lowest in the history of The Open.
Louis Oosthuizen has set the record for lowest 36-hole score in The Open Championship history with a 129. pic.twitter.com/2FHdchMJbs
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 16, 2021
After a bogey-free 6-under 64 in the first round, Oosthuizen went 33 straight holes without a bogey. After carding an eagle on the par-5 14th on Friday, he finally bogeyed the par-3 16th.
“No, more inspiration I would say, knowing that I can still compete in majors,” Oosthuizen said. “I just need to pull it through and see if I can go one better this weekend. The game is good, but I know it’s a really good leaderboard. I have to play good golf this weekend if I want to come out first.”
Morikawa’s latest strong debut
The first time Collin Morikawa played in the U.S. Open, he tied for 35th at Pebble Beach in 2019. The first time he played in the PGA Championship at Harding Park the next year, he became the event’s third-youngest winner at age 23.
Clearly, Morikawa is unfazed by golf’s biggest stages. That’s the case once again in his first start at The Open.
Morikawa, now 24, shot a 6-under 64 in the second round, which was tied for his best score to par in any round at a major, and trails Oosthuizen by 2 shots after 36 holes. Morikawa’s 36-hole score of 131 is tied for fourth lowest in Open history.
“I look at them as obviously they’re starred,” Morikawa said of the majors. “We have four of them a year, and you’re trying to definitely win these four because they’re that big.”
Morikawa said he grew up watching The Open on TV. He was just 6 years old when Ben Curtis became the last first-time winner of The Open at Royal St. George’s in 2003.
According to research by ESPN Stats & Information, Morikawa would become only the ninth player to win the PGA Championship and The Open in a 365-day span. Of the previous eight, only Tiger Woods did it before turning 25.
“For me, I just want to create my own memories,” he said. “There’s memories here and there. I’m awful with golf history, unfortunately, like just remembering certain facts. … For me, hopefully we can just create memories and create lifetime memories that hopefully Sunday comes along and we can talk again.”
More big names chasing
After opening with a 1-over 71, Jon Rahm looked like his U.S. Open victory follow-up at a major would be a flop. But then the Spaniard put together a bogey-free, 6-under 64 to move to 5 under at the halfway point, 6 shots behind Oosthuizen, whom he chased down to win at Torrey Pines last month.
It was Rahm’s lowest-scoring round in a major.
“I can play this level of golf on the weekend as well,” said Rahm, whose best finish at The Open was a tie for 11th at Royal Portrush two years ago. “I can play really good. It can get better as well. I think I [will] give myself a chance to catch up by Sunday.
“But we will see [in the third round]. [Saturday] is the most important day, obviously, right now. If I can put another solid round like I did [on Friday], post a good number, and hope that the leaders don’t go too low, I think that’s the job.”
Four-time major winner Brooks Koepka also put himself back into contention with a 4-under 66, closing with four birdies in the final five holes, including the last three. He is also at 5 under after 36 holes.
“I would like to be closer,” Koepka said. “But, yeah, I mean, I got to go out and play a good round. I need that. Try to be within two or three of the lead going into Sunday. So I need to make a move — and got to do it [Saturday].”
Who are these guys?
Oosthuizen isn’t the only South African on the leaderboard. The other one, though, is completely unexpected. Daniel van Tonder, 30, was a late replacement for Joohyung Kim and is playing in his first Open. After a 4-under 66 moved him to 6 under at the halfway point, van Tonder is suddenly in contention to win the Claret Jug.
“I can’t ask for much,” van Tonder said. “Golf you can’t really go and just say you want to be this or that. You have to go out and play. Yeah, as long as the wind keeps on blowing, I’m very happy about that. I’m here for the weekend and just enjoying every moment.”
He started playing golf at age 12 and has never had a coach. His wife, Abi, is his caddie. He’s a seven-time winner on the Challenge Tour and won his first European Tour event at the Kenya Savannah Classic in March, beating Jazz Janewattananond in a playoff. He tied for 44th at the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island in May.
Germany’s Marcel Siem is also tied for seventh at 6 under after 36 holes. That might be even more of a surprise. Siem is ranked the No. 302 player in the world. He didn’t qualify for The Open until Sunday, when he won the European Challenge Tour’s Le Vaudreuil Challenge in France.
Siem, who turned 41 on Thursday, is hard to miss on the course. He doesn’t wear a hat over his blond man-bun. He likes to fist pump every time a putt goes in. He hasn’t won on the European Tour since the BMW Masters in November 2014 and lost his tour card. He was ranked No. 48 in the world in 2013 and tied for 12th in the U.S. Open at Pinehurst the next year.
Playing in his first major since the 2015 PGA Championship, Siem has consecutive rounds in the 60s in a major for the first time in his career.
The friendlier-than-expected conditions at Royal St. George’s didn’t help everyone. A handful of big names are headed home after missing the cut. They include Marc Leishman (2 over), Francesco Molinari (2 over), Tyrrell Hatton (2 over), Patrick Cantlay (3 over), Patrick Reed (3 over), Gary Woodland (3 over), Jason Day (5 over) and Phil Mickelson (12 over).