Despite its reputation, Royal St. George’s has a history of giving up low scores.
Henry Cotton set the major championship record with a 65 in 1934 when the British Open was held on the undulating links in England. Greg Norman became the first player to win the claret jug with all four rounds in the 60s at Royal St. George’s in 1993.
This year, however, has been as exception as the pleasant, summer weather off Sandwich Bay.
Through 36 holes, 11 players have shot 65 or better — one more than the previous 14 times the Open has come to Royal St. George’s.
Louis Oosthuizen opened with a 64 and followed with a 65, giving him a two-shot lead over Collin Morikawa and the lowest 36-hole score (129) in British Open history.
“Today we got … I would say lucky sort of the last nine holes,” Oosthuizen said. “It was as good a weather as you can get playing this golf course. All of us took advantage of that. I think in our three-ball, we had a 64 and two 65s, which you don’t really see around a links golf course.”
U.S. Open champion Jon Rahm was in his group. He left a 12-foot birdie putt short on the final hole and had to settle for a 64. Shane Lowry, the defending champion, had a 65.
Here’s another way to look at it: The trio had a better-ball score of 58.
There were 47 players under par in the first round. That went up to 52 players going into the weekend. The cut was at 1-over 141, breaking by two the lowest ever in the British Open.
Among those with a 65 was Matthias Schmid, the German amateur who played college golf at Louisville and tied the record for lowest score by an amateur. It first was set by Tom Lewis at Royal St. George’s in 2011.
If that wasn’t enough, there were 63 rounds in the 60s, another British Open record. The previous mark was at Turnberry in 2009.
Is that to be expected at the British Open, famous for its notorious weather?
The glory of golf’s oldest championship is the weather is the greatest defense. Nick Faldo won at St. Andrews in 1990 at 18-under 270. The next time at the Old Course, John Daly won in a playoff after finishing at 6-under 282.
After that? Tiger Woods set the Old Course record at 19-under 269 (Woods usually requires some context — he won by eight shots that year).
Morikawa got it started Friday morning with a round so pure that it looked as though he might have a chance to set the major championship record at 61. But then he missed a 5-foot par putt on the 15th hole, and failed to convert birdie chances over the last two holes.
His final putt from about 10 feet burned the edge of the cup. He shot 64. Two groups later, Emiliano Grillo hit an approach to the 18th that rolled inches by the cup, leaving him a tap-in birdie for a 64. By the end of the day, Rahm had as good a chance as anyone at 64.
Rahm, who opened with a 71, still has hopes of becoming the first player since Woods in 2000 to win the U.S. Open and British Open in the same year. Even with a 64, he remained six shots out of the lead in a tie for 12th.
“Tomorrow is the most important day,” he said. “If I can put another solid round like I did today, post a good number, and hope that the leaders don’t go too low, I think that’s the job.”
He can only hope.
The forecast is for sunny, dry weather with only moderate wind by British standards. The course is sure to get firmer and drier. Royal St. George’s is renowned for its wild bounces, and there hasn’t been too many of those on turf that was soaked by rain into Monday.
“With the forecasted conditions being sunshine and less wind, I imagine they’ll let them firm up because that will be the defense of the golf course,” said Jordan Spieth, who was three shots behind after a 65-67 start. That’s his best 36-hole in the Open.
Spieth had never seen Royal St. George’s until this week and he kept an open mind.
“Now you get a pretty good idea of what it can yield,” he said.
He also has kept his eyes on the greens. Some of the pin positions have been in bowls. Others have been accessible by using the right slopes.
“They’ve left a lot of opportunities to make them very, very subtly challenging,” Spieth said. “And I think that’s what’s going to happen, which will obviously make it a little bit harder to make putts or get balls really close to the hole.”
Meanwhile, it’s hard to complain about who’s contending — four of the leading six players are major champions.