Sheffield’s Willett added a one-under-par round of 69 to his opening 67 to sit on four under par in a tie for 17th after the first two rounds. At one stage on Friday he was up to seven under par and just two off the lead set by early second-round pacesetter Colin Morikawa.
But as the day wore on and the afternoon starters began making birdies, the deficit to the lead later held by Louis Oosthuizen became seven shots. And Willett fully expects he will have to go low to stay in contention.
“By the looks of it, I think unless the wind really gets up, I can see this tournament being one with quite a lot of low scores,” said the 33-year-old.
“We’ve played the golf course now in a few different winds, generally in the same direction out of the north, but flickering between the west and the east.
“You’ve just got to play some good golf and shoot some good scores. I think level par in normal Opens is good scoring. With the strength of the field and how good these guys are and the golf course just being that little bit softer, you can see the guys really taking on a few of those tricky greens.
“I think we’re probably going to need a couple of good ones over the weekend.”
Rotherham’s Jonathan Thomson had the round of the day from a Yorkshire perspective; a 67 headlined by a hole-in-one on the 16th leaving him two under.
“It’s just phenomenal, to be honest,” he said. “Like the roar, the shot, everything about that hole, it’s indescribable really. It was a real booster because I was grinding out there as well.”
Matt Fitzpatrick is sticking around for the weekend after adding a 69 to his opening 71 to sit at level par. And Marcus Armitage has made the cut at a major for the first time. A month after missing the mark at the US Open by a shot, he makes the weekend by a single after a 72.
“Carnoustie was a bit of an experience for me,” he said of his 2018 Open debut. “It was just gathering experience. I’ve struggled in the big events, o to make the cut here and get a bit of experience of playing major golf at the weekend, will just instill a little bit more belief in my game.”
Of the rest of the Yorkshire contingent, Sam Bairstow and Ben Hutchinson shot 72s to finish seven over and nine over respectively, while Nick Poppleton carded a 73 to finish eight over.
Louis Oosthuizen will take a two-shot lead into the third round of the 149th Open after recording the lowest halfway total in championship history at Royal St George’s.
Oosthuizen fired an eagle and four birdies as he added a 65 to his opening 64 for a total of 129, eclipsing the previous best of 130 set by Sir Nick Faldo in 1992 and matched by Brandt Snedeker in 2012.
“I only heard that when I walked in,” said Oosthuizen. “I was not aware of what it was but to have any record at the Open is always very special.”
Only a bogey on the 16th prevented Oosthuizen from matching the lowest halfway score in any major – Brooks Koepka’s 128 in the 2019 US PGA – but he will be more concerned with the Claret Jug than records after the events of this season.
Already a runner-up in all four major championships, Oosthuizen took his unwanted total of near misses to six by finishing second in both the US PGA at Kiawah Island and the US Open at Torrey Pines.
“It’s more inspiration (than frustration) that I can still compete in majors,” said the 38-year-old South African, who won the Open at St Andrews in 2010 and lost a play-off at the same venue in 2015. “I just need to pull it through and see if I can go one better.”
At 11 under par Oosthuizen was two shots clear of 2020 US PGA champion Collin Morikawa, with three-time major winner Jordan Spieth a stroke further back.