JORDAN SPIETH has put himself in position to move three quarters of the way towards a career grand slam by heading the Open Championship leaderboard by two shots at the halfway mark at Royal Birkdale.
At six under par, Spieth leads from Ryder Cup team-mate Matt Kuchar, with England’s Ian Poulter, who was second at Birkdale when it last staged the Open in 2008, on three under alongside US Open champion Brooks Koepka.
Rory McIlroy added a 68 to his opening 71 to post a halfway total of one under par and lies five shots off the pace.
Spieth defied strong winds and torrential rain – which led to a short suspension in play in late afternoon – to card an erratic 69, which included three birdies, four bogeys and an eagle.
Spieth gave himself nine out of 10 following an opening 65, but admitted he needed some good luck to post a halfway total of 134, matching the record in an Open at Birkdale set by Craig Stadler in 1983.
“I give myself a B grade (for the second round),” Spieth said.
“I got pretty frustrated through the turn, hitting it into pot bunker after pot bunker and squeaking out pars somehow, but I thought we did a good job after the horn blew.
“It couldn’t have been better timing and I could play the last eight holes almost as a new round. I didn’t get everything I could out of Thursday’s round and I got more than what I deserved (in the second).”
This included a mis-hit fairway wood on the 15th that got just a few feet off the ground, but ended up 15 feet from the hole to set up an eagle for the 2015 Masters and US Open champion.
“We’ve been here before and we’re not going for the first major, but it is the first Open and I’d be lying if I said I won’t feel plenty of nerves,” added Spieth, who missed out on a play-off at St Andrews in 2015 by a single shot.
“But we’ve been moving in the right direction and I believe we can do this.”
Poulter completed a 70 either side of the 14-minute delay caused by torrential downpours that left standing water on several of the greens, the 41-year-old carding 16 pars, one birdie and one bogey.
“It feels absolutely marvellous to be in contention,” said Poulter, who came through final qualifying to avoid missing a sixth major in succession.
“Just walking from greens to tees was pretty special with huge galleries really pulling for me.”
Scotland’s Richie Ramsay matched Poulter’s 70 to finish two under and expressed similar sentiments at finding himself in contention to emulate fellow Aberdonian Paul Lawrie in lifting the Claret Jug.
“It’s pretty cool isn’t it?” the 34-year-old said. “You grow up and practice having a putt to win the Open.”
European Tour winners Matt Fitzpatrick and Danny Willett, both of Sheffield, made it through to the weekend, as did Hillsborough’s Joe Dean on his Open debut.
London’s Alfie Plant – the man beaten by Dean in the 2015 English men’s amateur final at Alwoodley – is set to win the silver medal as the Open’s leading amateur after making the cut.
The 25-year-old European amateur champion from Bexleyheath shot a three-over-par second-round 73 to make it to the weekend on four over. As the only amateur to survive the first two rounds, he will secure the silver medal if he completes all 72 holes.
When it was pointed out previous silver medal winners include Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, Plant said: “That’s not bad is it? Hopefully I’ll follow in their footsteps.”
The highlight of Plant’s second round was an eagle at the par-5 15th, set up with a stunning second shot, on a blemish-free back nine.
Chris Wood said he was embarrassed to take the limelight from Mark O’Meara by finishing his second round with a spectacular shot.
The 29-year-old Englishman holed his second from the middle of the 18th fairway for an eagle that dramatically improved his position from five over to three over.
It earned him a huge roar from the grandstands, but Wood accepted it only sheepishly as playing partner O’Meara, the 1998 champion, was coming to the end of his final Open.
Wood, who made his Ryder Cup debut last year, said: “It was a great way to finish but it’s quite embarrassing to steal Mark O’Meara’s thunder a little bit. I stole his and he sort of stole mine.”
O’Meara, whose triumph 19 years ago came over the same course, said: “This is the greatest championship. I know there are three other majors, but I truly believe the Open is the top of the list.”