It's example 1,494,758 that golf is impossible to predict. You have the world's best players, all playing the same golf course over two days, with nothing-crazy weather, and you have Brian Harman with a five-shot lead over his 155 competitors.
"Journeyman" is probably too strong a moniker, but few were touting the 5'7" Georgia Bulldog's chances coming into this week at The Open. He opened with a five-under 66 at Royal Liverpool and followed it up with the lowest round of the day by two shots: a six-under 65 in tricky conditions that, it should be said, is probably the best number he could've shot. Harman made everything he looked at and gained over 4 shots on the field with his putting for the second consecutive round. He leads the field in putting and, for good measure, holed out from off the green for par at 12 after playing sideways out of a pot bunker. He finished with an eagle 3 and no one got closer than four throughout the afternoon.
"I've had a hot putter the last couple days, so try to ride it through the weekend," Harman said after his round. "Thirty-six holes to go, so try to rest up and get ready."
After the round, Harman said he'd love to play on the Ryder Cup team but isn't thinking about it at all. He's more concerned with the immediate task at hand.
Harman, 36, is a two-time PGA Tour winner who's easily kept his Tour card for over a half-decade. He's been in the mix in majors before, most notably holding the 54-hole lead at the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills before Brooks Koepka chased him down. He also has a five-shot lead, not a one- or a two-shot lead, and there are only two players within six shots of him.
All that said, Vegas still gives him less than a 50 percent chance to get it done. A big reason why is the player who will join him on the first tee tomorrow. Tommy Fleetwood's a crowd favorite wherever he goes; he's got that easygoing nature, the cool Jesus-chic look and an easy smile. He's even more popular at Hoylake, just 20 miles or so from where he and his caddie/best friend, Ian Finnis, grew up. Fleetwood held a share of the lead after Thursday with a five-under 66—the amateur he shared it with, Christo Lamprecht, came back down to Earth with a 79—but didn't have nearly as much control over his ball on Friday. He scratched out a 71 to sit at five under total and, at five back with 36 holes to play, is the closest challenger.
"I’ve imagined winning it about a million times probably—winning a major is a dream, winning the Open is a huge, huge dream," said Fleetwood, who has six wins on the DP World Tour and five top-five finishes in majors, but no victories on the PGA Tour. "Having the opportunity to do it so close to where you grew up is something that’s very unique and very special."
Sepp Straka, who appeared on the Fore Play podcast last week, made six birdies on the more-difficult back-nine—there was a strong wind off the left for the 10-15 stretch, a right hander's worst nightmare—en route to a closing 31 and a four-under 67. He's the lone man at 4 under total and credited a putting tweak with his recent strong play. Straka, who has a Southern accent and went to Georgia but grew up in Austria, is looking increasingly likely to make the European Ryder Cup team.
—A couple of major champions had to dig deep just to see the weekend. Scottie Scheffler, who came into the week with 18 straight top-12 finished and seven-straight top 5s, had to birdie the par-5 18th to avoid missing the cut for the first time since last August. He did so, with a little help from the golf gods. His third shot caught the top lip of a greenside bunker and tumbled forward to tap-in range. He raised both hands in sheepish triumph after a frustrating day.
Defending champion Cameron Smith, too, needed a birdie at 18 to see the weekend but did one better, with a closing eagle to get in the house at 2 over total. Patrick Cantlay, Rickie Fowler and Adam Scott all squeaked in on the 3-over number.
—Rory McIlroy, the pre-tournament favorite, posted a one-under 70 and sits 1 under overall. He said he was happy with how he played but left a few shots out there. He's a full nine back of Harman's lead but just four back of solo second.
—Both Fitzpatrick brothers, Matt and Alex, made the cut, and both sit at 2 over total. Nicolai Hojgaard made the weekend but his twin brother, Rasmus, did not.
—Min Woo Lee's excellent major season continues. "The chef," as he calls himself, followed up an opening-round 71 with a 68 to sit three under par. Lee, 24, finished T18 at the PGA Championship and T5 at the U.S. Open. Also at 3 under is Wyndham Clark, who's proving he's a bona fide world-class player after his triumph at LACC.
—Jordan Spieth and Cameron Young are part of the group at 2 under.
—Not a great showing thus far from the LIV boys. Talor Gooch, who's won three times already this year, shot 74-75 to crash out at 7 over. Any chances he had of making the Ryder Cup are likely over. After not playing the U.S. Open, he needed a strong finish to essentially force Zach Johnson into considering him. Dustin Johnson's chances are also looking bleak after a second-round 81, which saw him lose to Zach Johnson by 12. Patrick Reed is through at 2 over, and Brooks Koepka followed up a one-under opening round with a four-over 75 and made it on the number. Henrik Stenson is the low LIV player currently at -1.