American Brandt Snedeker, who missed the cut in his three previous Opens, made amends in thrilling fashion by seizing the lead with a six-under-par 64 in Friday’s second round.
While the majority of the field seemed stuck in reverse gear on a calm day at Royal Lytham and St Annes, the 31-year-old accelerated clear with a record-equaling 36-hole total of 10-under 130.
Overnight leader Adam Scott birdied the 18th to add a 67 to his opening 64 and former world No. 1 Tiger Woods (67) sprinkled his own special brand of stardust by holing out from a greenside bunker at the last to move into third place on 134.
Young Dane Thorbjorn Olesen (66) was fourth on 135, one ahead of a cluster of players including 1999 champion Paul Lawrie (71) and 2010 US Open winner Graeme McDowell (69).
Several high-profile players missed the cut, among them former world No. 2 Phil Mickelson, who tumbled to a 78 for 11-over 151 to continue his dismal record in the tournament.
Defending champion Darren Clarke also failed to make the weekend along with former world No. 1 Martin Kaymer, Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose and Charl Schwartzel.
World No. 3 Lee Westwood parred the last four holes to scrape through by the skin of his teeth on 143 and second-ranked Rory McIlroy struggled to a 75 for 142.
Luke Donald (68), the world No. 1, notched four birdies in an outstanding five-hole burst from the fourth as he remained on the fringes of contention on 138.
Snedeker, who won the Farmers Insurance Open in California in January, reaped a rich harvest of birdies after ramming in a confidence-boosting 25-footer at the par-three first.
With most of his rivals toiling as light winds changed direction and organizers placed the flags in awkward spots on faster greens, Snedeker charged five strokes in front at one stage.
The American struck laser-guided approach shots at the sixth, seventh and ninth holes to set up three more birdie opportunities that he gratefully devoured as he raced to the turn in 30.
Snedeker, who has never won a major and missed the cut at The Open in 2008, 2009 and last year, made further inroads at the 11th and 12th before showing the touch of a master to get down in two from thick greenside rough at the 15th.
The American, who had a hole-in-one at the par-four 16th in practice on Wednesday, signed off with three more regulation figures to tie triple Open champion Nick Faldo’s 36-hole aggregate of 130 at Muirfield in 1992.
World No. 13 Scott has also yet to land his first major, but feels he is ready to achieve the breakthrough.
“This week is kind of a culmination of everything I’ve done over the last couple of years,” said the Australian who turned 32 on Monday.
Woods, dressed in all-grey as he attempted to end a four-year major drought, played down his exquisite bunker shot at the last.
Britain’s Richard Finch had the misfortune to take 10 at the par-four eighth on the way to a 79.
TRUE SOUTH CLASSIC
AFP, MAdison, Mississippi
American Billy Horschel fired a nine-under par 63 on Friday to hold a one-stroke lead at the PGA Tour’s rain disrupted True South Classic in Mississippi.
Horschel made eagles at the fifth and the 18th in his bogey-free round to reach a 13-under 131 total at the halfway stage.
Matt Bettencourt was one stroke back after a six-under 66, while first-round leader Jason Bohn was scheduled to finish his second yesterday morning. He was placed at 12-under through the front nine.