HOYLAKE, England — There was no great surprise that a South African joined Rory McIlroy at the top of the leaderboard early on the second day of the Open Championship, but some people may have been taken aback that he wasn’t called Oosthuizen, Schwartzel, Els or Goosen.
George Coetzee has been a good player for a long time, but had to wait until last year to claim his first victory on the European Tour. He hits the ball prodigious distances, is a brilliant bunker player, and hits low, penetrating long irons.
He put together a solid 70 on day one and then, celebrating his 28th birthday, decided it was about time to show the world what he could really do. The stocky South African birdied the fifth, 10th, 13th, 14th and 15th holes. Suddenly, from out of nowhere, he was tied with McIlroy at 6 under par, knowing that if he could keep it at that mark, he may well end up in the lead on his own at the end of the day.
And, of course, Coetzee immediately three-putted the par-5 16th to drop back to 5 under, and let another one go at the 17th. To his credit, he produced a stunning pitch at the 18th for a birdie that moved him back to 5 under. It meant he could sit back and watch the fun as the late starters struggled with the weather.
Defending champions have a habit of either missing the cut or barely scraping through to the final two days, and after all the trials and tribulations he has been through this season, there was plenty of pressure on Phil Mickelson as he set off. Starting the day at 2 over par after stumbling to a 74, he needed something to happen — and he needed it to happen quickly.
Instead, he dropped a shot at the third. Then he almost holed his approach at the fourth, leaving himself a tap-in birdie. And after a superb approach to the par-5 fifth, he rammed home an eagle putt to get back to level par. On a windy day on the Dee Estuary, with scores expected to be far higher than day one, this was exactly what he required. He should have got into the red at the seventh but a putt from six feet slipped agonizingly by.
Bubba Watson, playing with Mickelson and the hapless Ernie Els, also needed to get it going after an implosion of his own during the first round, when he threw away a promising start by completely losing the plot. With the wind starting to get up, Hoylake was starting to look like a course that may continue to exact its revenge on Watson for Thursday’s petulance.
Bad news, too, for Jason Day. The Australian injured his wrist again in the first round while attempting to dig his ball out of waist-high rough, and played with it heavily strapped.
Justin Rose and Adam Scott were among the other high-profile morning starters. Scott, the world No. 1, shot a 68 to get his challenge going. Rose began the day at level par, the same mark as Lee Westwood. Rose was making no progress until he holed out from off the green at the ninth for a birdie and repeated the trick at the 10th, this time for eagle. Suddenly, at 2 under par, he had ignited his challenge and was just four off the pace, and one behind playing partner Scott. The Australian had an up-and-down round but will be happy enough to have scored a 73 that leaves him at 3 under par, one ahead of Rose.
Martin Kaymer, the U.S. Open champion, had the start he didn’t want. He arrived at Hoylake full of confidence after his astonishing display at Pinehurst, but his golf since then has been a mixture of brilliance and downright shocking. And the second round quickly turned into one he would want to forget very quickly, despite three birdies in the first five holes. A wild drive at the sixth cost him a double-bogey, and he dropped further shots at the eighth and ninth.
The most unexpected move came from Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee, who mixed four birdies with two bogeys on the front nine to move to two under for the championship. Jaidee knows how to win — and he also knows how to win when the wind blows.
For Westwood, it was all something of a struggle. He slipped back to 2 over par until holing a long putt for a birdie at the 12th, his first of the day. But he quickly started going backwards again and was in serious danger of missing the cut.
Mickelson eventually got into the clubhouse at 2 over par, and will be here for the weekend. Bubba, two shots worse, will have to wait to find out.
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