After setting the 36-hole tournament record on Friday, Oosthuizen led at 11 under par going into the weekend. Morikawa and Jordan Spieth weren’t far behind.
SANDWICH, England — The scoreboard carrier on Friday looked even younger than Collin Morikawa, but the pace of changing numbers was getting to him.
“So many birdies,” the carrier said on the 14th green as he switched out yet another red numeral on his portable board. “I’m losing track.”
There would be seven birdies in all for Morikawa in the second round of this British Open on his way to a six-under-par 64, one short of the course record at venerable Royal St. George’s.
“I just want to create my own memories,” said Morikawa, 24. “I’m awful with golf history, unfortunately. I did not know 63 was the low here. I just kind of came out and played golf.”
Heading into the final two rounds this weekend, Morikawa is at nine under par and in prime position, sandwiched, so to speak, between two past British Open champions: Louis Oosthuizen at 11 under and Jordan Spieth at eight under.
Not bad for a young Californian playing in this major tournament for the first time, but then Morikawa has already proved that he is a newcomer to be reckoned with. Last year, he won the P.G.A. Championship in his first appearance, rising to the top of a densely packed leaderboard with aplomb on the closing holes.
But that major breakthrough came on familiar ground: T.P.C. Harding Park in San Francisco, just across the bay from the University of California, Berkeley, where Morikawa was a star college golfer before graduating with a business degree in 2019.
This week’s surge is coming 5,400 miles away, on a classic links course that is also distant in spirit from the parkland layouts where Morikawa has played most of his golf.
“You can’t underestimate Collin, even if it’s his first British Open,” Walter Chun, his coach at Cal, said in a remote interview from California. “I’m sure he’s done a lot of research prior to his trip overseas. I’m sure he’s worked on certain things while at home. He’s very smart. His intellect matches the talent he has for ball-striking, and I can tell you that he went to the Scottish Open for a reason.”
That trip to Scotland was last week, and though Morikawa finished tied for 71st at the Renaissance Club, it gave him a chance to test out his game before the main event in Sandwich.
He learned his lessons quickly.
“I wouldn’t be here through these two rounds if I hadn’t played last week at the Scottish,” he said. “I’ve played in firm conditions. I can think of places I’ve played in tighter, drier conditions. But just having fescue fairways and the ball siting a little different was huge to see last week.”
The rough is often wispy, tall and treacherous on British seaside courses. Will Zalatoris, another rising American star and one of Morikawa’s former Walker Cup teammates, had to withdraw from the tournament on Friday after he had injured his back while hacking a ball out of the thick rough on the 15th hole in the first round.
But though the rough is up at Royal St. George’s, the weather has been more benign. Friday was a blue-sky day with the wind dropping considerably in the afternoon, along with the scores.
“Those last nine holes were probably as good conditions as you can ask for in links golf,” said Oosthuizen, the South African star who made an eagle on 14 and finished with a 65.
His two-round total of 129 was the lowest 36-hole total in the history of the British Open, which dates to 1860.
“Anytime you can set or equal a record in the Open Championship, it’s special,” Oosthuizen said.
But what Oosthuizen truly craves at age 38 is a second major championship to go with the British Open he won at St. Andrews in 2010. Since then, he has been runner-up on six occasions, most recently at this year’s P.G.A. Championship and U.S. Open.
“I’m sure after the last two majors he’s even more motivated,” said Spieth, the 27-year-old American who is chasing his fourth major title, and his first since winning the British Open in 2017.
Established threats abound at Royal St. George’s. Dustin Johnson, the world No. 1, and Brooks Koepka, a former No. 1, both made moves on Friday. Johnson was at seven under par, four shots off the lead, after shooting a 65. Koepka was at five under after a 66. Phil Mickelson, with a two-round score of 152, missed the cut.
“That’s a good leaderboard,” Oosthuizen said, sounding wary, and with good reason.
Morikawa, like Spieth, bears close watching. He made two significant changes after the Scottish Open. He switched to new 7, 8 and 9 irons to improve his feel.
“Those are three crucial clubs that are some of my favorite clubs,” he said. “My 8-iron is my favorite club in the bag, and when I wasn’t able to hit it last week, well I knew I had to try something different.”
This week, he has also resumed putting with a conventional grip on longer putts. When he was struggling with his putting earlier this season, Morikawa consulted with Mark O’Meara, the 1998 British Open champion, and switched to a grip called “the saw,” which limits the influence of the right hand.
After the change, Morikawa won the Workday Championship, a World Golf Championship event in Bradenton, Fla. But he recognized that long-range putts at Royal St. George’s called for more grip strength because of the slower greens.
“I think the saw grip is amazing for me,” he said. “But trust me, the saw grip was not working from outside 30 feet. I would have left everything 10 feet short. I had to change.”
Morikawa’s iron play has certainly not suffered, despite the late change in clubs. It remains the strength of his game, and his brilliant approach shots often left him with short birdie putts on Friday. But he also scrambled effectively, salvaging par after hitting into a fairway bunker on the par-4 13th and making a birdie on the par-5 14th despite hitting his tee shot into deep rough far left of the fairway.
If Morikawa had not missed a short putt for par on 15, he would probably have a share of the course record.
“Out here in links golf, you’re going to hit bad shots,” Morikawa said. “You’re going to hit bad approach shots, bad tee shots. To see the par save on 13, I’m really going to draw on that for the rest of the week, because sometimes you have to just bite your tongue, play safe and try and make par best you can.”
Spoken like a British Open veteran, which Morikawa is not. But on Saturday, the debutant will be in the final pairing with Oosthuizen for the third round, with more mild weather in the forecast.
Count him out at your peril.
“I can tell you from experience,” Chun said, “that he soaks up things like a sponge.”
Source: Golf - nytimes.com