Fleetwood defied miserable morning conditions at Carnoustie to card six birdies in a flawless second round of 65, two shots outside the course record he set in last year’s Dunhill Links Championship.
“It’s no course record but it will do,” said Fleetwood, who recorded three birdies on the front nine and three more on the inward half, including on the daunting 18th to finish his round in style.
“Last year’s second round might have been better than this one.”
Fleetwood was the poster boy of last year’s Open at Royal Birkdale, the 27-year-old from Southport admitting the course was “forbidden fruit” that he and his father had to sneak on to when he was a child.
An opening 76 left him facing a fourth straight missed cut in the Open, but Fleetwood bounced back with a 69 in challenging conditions to make the cut and went on to finish 27th.
“Last year definitely was a bit more difficult than this year in terms of expectation coming very quickly for me and that was a home Open Championship,” Fleetwood added.
“At the moment I’ve put myself high in the world rankings and I’ve had the US Open just recently where I had a great result [second behind Brooks Koepka].
“With that comes expectation, and with that you have to learn to manage it and handle it. But at the same time it’s much nicer than having no eyes on you at all.”
This was the case as recently as September 2016 when Fleetwood was a lowly 188th in the world, but he reaped the rewards of returning to his former coach Alan Thompson and employing his friend Ian Finnis – the husband of former England women’s goalkeeper Rachel Brown-Finnis – as his caddie.
Fourth in the US Open last year, Fleetwood performed even better at Shinnecock Hills in June, finishing a shot behind defending champion Koepka after agonisingly missing from eight feet for birdie on the 72nd hole to equal the all-time major record of 62.
A first major title could now beckon on home soil instead and make Fleetwood the first Englishman to lift the Claret Jug since Nick Faldo in 1992.
“It would be very special,” the world No 10 added. “I can’t lie about it, if I could pick one tournament in my life to win it would be the Open. I’ve never been anywhere near before.
“We’re only halfway through the tournament unfortunately. There’s no point thinking about the end game.
“Thirty six holes is a long time. [Yesterday’s] been a round where I’ve put myself back in the tournament and I’ve just got to move on from there really.
“If I can hit it like I did [yesterday], then obviously I’m going to have a lot of chances coming in over the weekend and we’ll see where that takes me.”
As for the bright yellow umbrella that attracted so much attention, Fleetwood revealed: “We got one given for free actually. We don’t always carry an umbrella as we don’t have a sponsor. So it just so happens this week that we’ve got a nice Open Championship brolly. It looked quite nice.”
Rory McIlroy believes he has still got plenty more to give as he chases Open glory at Carnoustie.
The former world No 1, who is bidding for a first major victory in four years, put himself firmly in contention on the Angus coast by moving to four under with a second-round 69.
But due to yesterday’s wet conditions McIlroy felt he was unable to attack as much as he wanted and will have to bide his time before attempting to move through the gears.
The Northern Irishman said: “I would have taken that score going out. It wasn’t that bad, but it was just damp enough and cold enough that the game plan that I was trying to adapt to be aggressive and hit driver a lot, I just couldn’t do it.
“We had to tough it out a little bit. It was a little more difficult, so I’m happy to be in with a shot,” he said.
“This week one of my main thoughts is just to let it go. Just go out there and give it your all, try 100 per cent rather than hold back and maybe not give myself the opportunity to do well.
“But it was definitely a day of, ‘don’t shoot yourself out of the tournament’ instead of trying to press on and build a lead or get an advantage. I played within myself.”
McIlroy also feels there is also room for improvement in terms of the quality of his play.
The 29-year-old said: “I didn’t hit driver as much, so I didn’t have as much of a chance to hit it offline, but there were still a couple of shots out there that weren’t great.
“I feel like there are low rounds in me. If I can get on a run or get off to a fast start in the next couple of days, I definitely see something like a 66 or a 65. I think I’m capable of that.”