SANDWICH, England (AP) A player from Northern Ireland charged up the leaderboard at the British Open.
Just not the one you might expect.
Darren Clarke shot his second straight 2-under 68 on Friday, taking a lead role heading to the weekend and showing his younger countrymen a thing or two at Royal St. George’s.
Once the face of Northern Ireland golf, the 42-year-old Clarke became an afterthought when first Graeme McDowell, then Rory McIlroy claimed major championships. Maybe it’s time for the old guy to get his title, too.
“It would mean an awful lot,” Clarke said. “But obviously, this is only after two rounds. There’s an awful long way to go yet.”
Clarke rolled in a 90-footer for eagle at the seventh and closed his round with a birdie at the tough 18th, sending him to the clubhouse tied for the top spot with Lucas Glover at 4 under 136.
Glover, the 2009 U.S. Open champion, followed an opening 66 with a solid 70 on a warm, sunny day on the English seaside.
“I didn’t hole as many putts as I did yesterday,” the bearded Glover said. “But I’m happy to grind out even par.”
The U.S. has gone five straight majors without a title – its longest drought of the modern Grand Slam era. Glover shrugged off the slump; besides, he could be in line to snap another streak.
“They told me no one has won the Open championship with a beard since the 1890s,” he said.
Also in contention from the other side of the Atlantic: Chad Campbell, who shot 68 and was one shot back at 3-under 137; Dustin Johnson (68) and old-timers Davis Love III (68) and Tom Lehman (67), all at 138; and, yes, even Phil Mickelson, who came to England trying to forget his Open record.
Lefty has only one top-10 finish in 17 previous appearances. Despite missing several short putts over the first two days, a 69 made him a factor at 139.
“It’s fun to be in contention heading to the weekend of the British Open,” he said.
McIlroy won’t run away with this championship as he did last month at the U.S. Open, but the 22-year-old wasn’t complaining about his position. Playing in the afternoon, after the wind picked up, he shot an impressive 69 and was at 140 overall.
He saved his best for last, pulling out a par after plugging his approach in a pot bunker in front of the green. McIlroy somehow knocked it on the green and sank a 12-foot putt, pumping his fist as he walked toward the cup.
All four current major champions were headed to the weekend, but not the top-ranked player in the world. England’s Luke Donald closed with four straight bogeys for a 75.
PGA champion Martin Kaymer (67) was at 137, with Masters winner Charl Schwartzel (68) another stroke back. Defending British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen (70) also was safely above the cut line at 142.
The forecast was much worse for the final two rounds, with both wind and rain expected.
Bring it on, said Mickelson.
“One of the things I’m looking forward to is actually the bad weather,” he said. “I hope it comes in.”
Bjorn, playing in the same group as Dyson, was in danger of falling completely out of the mix when he bogeyed three straight holes at the start of his round. But the 40-year-old Dane pulled himself together, playing 1 under the rest of the way for a 72 that left him one stroke off the lead heading to the weekend.
“It wasn’t the prettiest of days golfwise, but I’ll take where I stand in the championship,” Bjorn said.
So will Miguel Angel Jimenez, also at 137 after shooting 71.
There was plenty of experience on the leaderboard with 40-somethings Clarke, Jimenez, Bjorn and Love, plus the 52-year-old Lehman, who won the Open 15 years ago.
“The round just kind of flowed,” Lehman said. “I hit it solidly, made a few nice putts, drove the ball extremely well, so I feel like I wasn’t really pressured all day long. It was a good day.”
The opening round produced a pair of unlikely leaders. Bjorn had missed the cut in four of five events before he got to Royal St. George’s, his game in disarray, his heart heavy after the death of his father, and lugging around plenty of baggage at this place.
Eight years ago, Bjorn squandered a two-stroke lead in the final three holes, allowing Ben Curtis to sneak away with one of golf’s most improbable wins.
Getting into the tournament on Monday as an alternate when Vijay Singh dropped out, Bjorn played only one practice round, then went out and shot a 65.
So did 20-year-old Tom Lewis, who became the first amateur to lead the Open since 1968, the first to pace any major since Mike Reid at the 1976 U.S. Open.
But Reid looked more his age in the second round, bogeying the final two holes for a 74 that dropped him three strokes off the pace. At No. 18, Lewis knocked his approach over the green, striking a fence post in front of the grandstands and forcing him to play a chip off a gravel road.
Still, he’s made it through to the weekend – his primary goal.
“If you asked me that two days ago, I would have taken it,” Lewis said. “But at this moment, it doesn’t feel so good.”
At least he had a good view for the shot of the day.
Playing partner Tom Watson, the five-time Open champion Lewis is named after, sent a charge through the place with a hole-in-one at the sixth.
Pulling out a 4-iron, Watson sent the ball soaring to the green, then watched it bounce one time before dropping into the cup. The 61-year-old threw both arms in the air, high-fived Henrik Stenson, shook hands with Lewis, then took a bow toward the grandstand.
“Wish I could have seen it go in,” Watson said as he walked toward the hole to retrieve the second hole-in-one at this Open. Johnson aced the 16th during the opening round.
Watson missed some short putts, though, and finished with a 70 for a 142, good enough to send him through to the weekend.
The morning starters definitely caught a break with the weather. Early on, there was barely a cloud in the sky and little wind off the Strait of Dover, the flags hanging limply above the grandstand.
Clarke took advantage, though it had nothing do with being spurred on by the success of his younger countrymen.
“I’ve been personally delighted for both of them,” he said. “We’ve got back-to-back U.S. Open champions from a small, little country like Northern Ireland. That’s a massive achievement.”
Clarke will likely be carrying on this weekend without McDowell, who stumbled to a 77 for a 5-over 145.
“It’s getting to be a bit of a habit, these type of days,” McDowell moaned. “A bad habit to get into, obviously.”
Donald’s finish epitomized the woes for the English, who had hoped to make a big splash at the club that has hosted more Opens outside Scotland than any other course.
Lee Westwood, No. 2 in the world, shot 73 and was in danger of missing the cut. Ian Poulter headed home after a 78.
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