It was moving day at The Open Championship on Friday but the sunshine refused to budge.

While Louis Oosthuizen recovered the overnight lead that he had lost to Collin Morikawa earlier in the day, a few fans' favourites ensured they will be around at the weekend.

Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry both did enough to make the cut and world number one Dustin Johnson surged up the leaderboard.

But our man on the ground also had an eye on events on the fringes of the action...

BUTTER FINGERS!

When the players walk off the 18th green they pass under the grandstand that surrounds the putting surface.

Above them will often be a gaggle of fans trying to get their attention so they might throw a golf ball their way.

But when that chance comes you have to be ready to take it, and one young fan's hopes were dashed when Tommy Fleetwood tossed a ball within his grasp but he let it slip.

When a marshal picked it up to throw it back to the waiting fans, it was a different young hopeful who managed to seize the opportunity.

MERRY CHRISTMAS?

Lucas Herbert's caddie had fans in a festive mood, despite it being the middle of July.

Nick Pugh sports a bushy white beard and, as he made his way from the 15th green to the 16th tee, one cheeky fan asked if the jovial Scot had received his Christmas list.

Pugh saw the funny side and retorted: "Ho ho ho!"

BEERY ME...

They are not compulsory, but some spectators are choosing to wear face masks in these coronavirus times.

That is all well and good, but it's important to remove your mask before attempting to drink your beer.

One fan probably won't need to learn that lesson again after inducing much mirth following a botched attempt to take a swig from his pint with his face mouth covered.

Louis Oosthuizen holds a two-shot lead at the halfway stage of the 149th Open Championship after posting a record 36-hole score at golf's oldest major.

The South African, who claimed the Claret Jug in 2010, continued his stunning form at majors in 2021 with a 65 on Friday, with 129 the lowest total after two rounds at this event.

Tournament debutant Collin Morikawa, who had earlier carded a 64 at a sun-drenched Royal St George's, is Oosthuizen's closest rival on nine under, with 2017 winner Jordan Spieth one stroke further back.

Oosthuizen finished in a tie for second at the US PGA Championship in May and was outright runner-up at the U.S. Open the following month. 

He faces stiff competition from a chasing pack that also includes world number one Dustin Johnson following his 65 to move seven under, while Brooks Koepka is on five under.

 

Favourable weather on the Kent coast meant the course was set fair for low scoring and 2020 US PGA Championship winner Morikawa took full advantage.

His round included a run of five birdies in seven holes before a bogey at the 15th – the tricky par four playing at an average of 4.4 – halted his progress.

Oosthuizen did not go out until the afternoon but quickly made his intentions clear with a birdie at the first, though the highlight of his round was an eagle three at the 14th.

Reigning champion Shane Lowry also enjoyed a fine day as he shot 65, while pre-tournament favourite Jon Rahm went one better to keep his slim hopes alive.

Rory McIlroy birdied the last to ease any lingering fears of missing the cut, while 2018 champion Francesco Molinari did not make the weekend after a 74 that included a quadruple-bogey seven at the sixth, where he took three shots to get out of a bunker.


SHOT OF THE DAY

There was joy for Englishman Jonathan Thomson as he hit the first ace at the 16th en route to a 67.

CHIPPING IN

Rory McIlroy: "I felt a little nervous going to that 18th tee. I knew I needed a par at least, but birdie to at least be comfortable."

Jonathan Thomson: "The hole-in-one was obviously awesome. It was a real confidence booster after what had been up until that point a real grind."

A LITTLE BIRDIE TOLD ME...

- Jordan Spieth's halfway score of 132 is the American's second lowest at a major.

- Emiliano Grillo shot a 64, which was six strokes better than his opening round.

- Phil Mickelson improved on his opening effort by eight strokes, but still missed the cut at 12 over.

Collin Morikawa feels has the right mindset to cope with the pressure of majors after he took the lead at the Open on Friday with a fine 64.

The debutant surged up the leaderboard with a tremendous second round, moving to nine under for the tournament.

A stunning card from the 2020 US PGA Championship winner showed just one bogey and he could have even moved further clear had a putt on 18 not skirted the cup.

Morikawa made seven birdies as he took advantage of fine early conditions at Royal St George's.

As well as his US PGA win, Morikawa, 24, also has a 2021 top-10 finish to his name at that tournament, as well as coming fourth at the U.S. Open last month.

"Yeah, I look at them as obviously they're starred," he said of his success at majors so early in his career.

"We have four of them a year, and you're trying to definitely win these four because they're that big. 

"Talking about last year's PGA, I had seen every single guy before, I had played with every single guy, and that doesn't make anything different. 

"It's just the stage that we're on, more media, more spectators, more people around. 

"But that's everything outside that I could control. For me, it's just let's go figure out this golf course Monday through Wednesday like I have been the past couple years and figure it out on what I need to do to play well. 

"This style of golf is very different, but playing last week at the Scottish Open helped tremendously."

 

Morikawa posted a 67 in round one but believes his play was similar across the first two days.

"Just sticking to what I've been doing," he said of his Friday success.

"On Thursday I thought I played really well, just wasn't hitting as many fairways. Was able to hit a few more fairways early on in the round this time."

Morikawa ended his round three clear of overnight leader Louis Oosthuizen, who was joined at six under by fellow South African Daniel van Tonder as well as Emiliano Grillo, Marcel Siem and Jordan Spieth.

A flying start from former champion Spieth, who birdied his first two holes on Friday, meant he was promptly up to seven under and within two of his American compatriot, though he then dropped a shot at the third.

Birdies on 17 and 18 meant Grillo matched Morikawa with a 64, while Siem also gained two shots in the final two holes to sign for an impressive 67.

Rory McIlroy, meanwhile, all but ensured he will finish above the cut line with a crucial birdie on 18.

The Northern Irishman is level par for the week after a second straight 70. 

In an up-and-down round two, he recovered nicely from consecutive bogeys to start his day but then bogeyed 16 and 17 before improving his position once more at the last.

Tournament debutant Collin Morikawa surged into the lead at The Open with a second-round 64 to move to nine under on Friday.

The 2020 US PGA Championship winner's stunning card showed just one bogey as the American ended his round three clear of overnight leader Louis Oosthuizen.

Morikawa made seven birdies as he took advantage of fine conditions at Royal St George's, but he squandered the chance to get to 10 under with a putt on 18 that skirted the cup.

Daniel van Tonder moved level with South African compatriot Oosthuizen following a 66, while Tony Finau signed for the same score to get to four under.

 

Rory McIlroy, who matched Finau's 70 on Thursday, remained at even par through 11, while 2018 Champion Golfer of the Year Francesco Molinari is unlikely to make the weekend after a 74 left him two over.

Oosthuizen goes out at 14:59 local time alongside reigning champion Shane Lowry and pre-tournament favourite Jon Rahm, both of whom will be looking to improve on rounds of 71.

Jordan Spieth has brought his confidence and his golf ball back under control and the one-time American 'golden child' made the game look easy again on day one of The Open.

Now 27, and only this year truly emerging from a major early-career slump, Spieth is looking the part again and ripe to challenge at Royal St George's.

An opening 65 put Spieth just one behind Louis Oostuizen, a fellow former Open champion, and six ahead of playing partner Bryson DeChambeau.

Spieth was down at 92nd in the world rankings early this year but has shot up to 23rd on the back of form that suggests a fourth major of his career could be just days away.

Asked whether his self-belief and his faith in his golf had wobbled in the four years since his 2017 Open triumph at Royal Birkdale, Spieth did not hesitate to give a frank answer.

"Absolutely," he said. "It's funny you mention that, though, because I look back and I had a chance to win at least one of the majors each year when I felt like I had no idea where the ball was going, which, I guess, could be bad and good.

"But sure. Golf is a game played between the ears, right? When it's not going great, you can certainly lose quite a bit of confidence in it.

"That was the first time I've had to really try to build confidence back up, and it takes time. It's a combination of obviously getting things figured out mechanically but also then putting it to the test and mentally stepping up with enough oomph to go ahead and pull off some shots.

"That's how you build the confidence: using that improvement physically on the course under pressure. By no means do I feel like I'm where I want to be mechanically yet, but this year has been a really, really good progression for me, and all I'm trying to do is just get a little bit better each day."

 

From being a 23-year-old with three majors and comparisons to the game's greats – plus a nickname that he abhored – Spieth did not win again after Birkdale until taking the Texas Open title in April of this year.

He had charged through to the end of 2017 after that Open win, not getting in the mix at the US PGA Championship but still enjoying a couple of second places and picking up 3.5 points as the United States lifted the Presidents Cup.

Relative failure in 2018 meant two third-place finishes and $2,793,536 in prize-money, then only one third place and $2,124,192 came his way the following year.

in the heavily disrupted 2020 campaign, Spieth collected $1,138,146 and failed to finish in the top three once, but his game has majestically come together in the 2021 season, with Spieth already $5,016,964 to the good. As well as his title in Texas, Spieth has snagged three more top-three finishes and four further top-10s.

After four missed cuts in his opening seven events of the season, Spieth has made the weekend at every event since, only finishing outside the top 20 twice in that spell. He tied for third at The Masters in April.

The total haul of eight top-10 finishes for Spieth on the PGA Tour this season is one more than the number he managed in 2017 before arriving in England for The Open.

These are achievements that persuade Spieth something special might be just around the corner – more so than the delicious fact he is playing the opening two rounds with Branden Grace, who also partnered the previous two Open champions on the Thursday and Friday of the 2018 and 2019 championships.

"The path that I'm on and where I've been before in the game, I feel really good about my chances going forward, as good as they have been historically," Spieth said.

"As far as surprised or not, I guess I feel like I've been trending the right way and certainly had a chance this year already at Augusta.

"I made some mistakes in the first round and second round that I shouldn't have made [without which] I very well could have won that golf tournament this year."

And when Spieth says, "I like where I'm at", he could be answering about the setting of this week's tournament, with its thick rough and sloping greens, as well as his form.

"There's been times recently where I've said, 'Man, I just really don't like this place'," he said.

"I came in here and I've been in a really good mood about it. My first walk around it I played 12 holes, played a loop on Sunday, and it was the opposite wind and I still thought, 'Man, this could be a really fun kind of cool, tricky track'."

When Spieth reached the turn in three-under 32 on Thursday, he recalls his thought being, "Hey, we're in the thick of things".

Asked how success at a major might feel now, compared to how it last felt in 2017, Spieth was smart enough not to speculate, though he hopes to soon know the answer.

"I'm not sure," he said. "I would hope to answer that question for you in a few days."

As if to welcome the return of this glorious tournament after two years in the dark, the sun shone brightly on the opening round of the 149th Open Championship.

Royal St George's was initially basked in a warm glow as a crowd of more than 30,000 were treated to a spectacular day of golf at the famous links in Sandwich.

Louis Oosthuizen closed the round top of the leaderboard, but it was the course itself that took centre stage.

And Stats Perform's man on the ground was out and about, taking notes of all the happenings on the other side of the ropes.

SEAVIEW AND FREEVIEW!

There is a large grass mound at the far end of the course that affords a stunning vantage point across the whole links.

A sizeable crowd gathered there from early in the morning, taking in the view from high above the sixth green, with the North Sea glistening in the sunshine away to the east.

But there is another option, with Princes Drive running alongside the course but outside of its perimeter and allowing an unobstructed view of the fifth green, while the sea is a stone's throw away, with plenty of projectiles available on Sandwich Bay's pebble beach.

DINO-SOARING TEMPERATURES

Fancy dress is a common sight at golf tournaments but you should choose your outfit wisely.

The weather forecast in Kent is promising to serve up the best of British summertime over the four days of competition and it made one man's decision to don a dinosaur onesie appear quite ill-judged.

He was to be found roaming the fairway's edge around the seventh hole, and would no doubt soon have been in search of water. Or maybe he was just waiting for Roary McIlroy...

FAN-TASTIC

It was a joy to see so many fans in attendance in Sandwich, with several players commenting on how much it improved the experience for them.

After a prolonged spell of being deprived of such things, Jordan Spieth was among those to welcome the return of crowds to enhance the spectacle.

He said: "I feel like the fans here are very knowledgeable about the sport, and they're also having a great time.

"It's just like at Augusta, it's just a beautiful setting a lot of times, shaping a lot of the holes with people."

Louis Oosthuizen holds the first-round lead at The Open but has Jordan Spieth snapping at his heels in a battle between two former champions.

South African Oosthuizen, who claimed the Claret Jug in 2010, shot a blemish-free 64 to sit one stroke ahead of 2017 winner Spieth, who has Brian Harman for company on five under.

Oosthuizen outshone his playing partners in a headline-grabbing trio featuring reigning champion Shane Lowry and pre-tournament favourite Jon Rahm.

A host of players are within three shots of the summit at Royal St George's, including major winners Justin Rose and Danny Willett, along with 2009 champion Stewart Cink.

Lowry's hopes of becoming the first player to successfully defend the title at the Sandwich links since Harry Vardon in 1899 suffered a setback following an opening 71, with U.S. Open champion Rahm matching that effort.

 

While Oosthuizen holds a narrow advantage, it is three-time major winner Spieth who has the omens on his side, having been drawn in the same group as Branden Grace.

Oosthuizen's compatriot has featured alongside the eventual winner in the opening two rounds of each of the last two editions of golf's oldest major.

World number one Dustin Johnson is poised to make a move after a two-under-par 68, with Sergio Garcia signing for the same score.

Rory McIlroy, who missed the cut on home soil at Royal Portrush two years ago, closed with a birdie to card an even-par 70.

 

SHOT OF DAY

It was not the most technically brilliant strike of the ball, but the nerves involved in Richard Bland's opening tee shot made it a triumph of coolness under pressure.

The Englishman won his first European Tour title at the 478th attempt at the British Masters in May and had the honour in Kent on Thursday.

He managed to keep the ball on the fairway with a drive that was slightly left, but safe nonetheless.

CHIPPING IN

Louis Oosthuizen: "[That was] probably in my mind the perfect round I could have played. I didn't make many mistakes. When I had good opportunities for birdie, I made the putts."

Richard Bland: "It was very special, very nerve-racking. The nerves definitely cranked up a little bit and I was glad to hit one in the fairway." 

Shane Lowry: "It's so good to have the crowds here and it's so good to be playing in the Open Championship like we know. The big grandstands and the big crowds and getting clapped on the grandstands and on the tees, that's pretty cool."

A LITTLE BIRDIE TOLD ME...

- Louis Oosthuizen's 64 is his lowest score at a major.

- Rory McIlroy started an Open with a birdie for the first time, with this the Northern Irishman's 12th entry into the tournament.

- The 15th hole proved the toughest to tame on Thursday, the par four playing at an average of 4.37.

Louis Oosthuizen will draw on the experience of his many close calls at majors as he seeks to claim a second Open title.

The South African shot a blemish-free 64 at Royal St George's on Thursday to earn the clubhouse lead, with Jordan Spieth and Brian Harman one stroke back.

Oosthuizen has not added to the maiden major he secured at the 2010 Open, with eight top-10 finishes – including two tied-seconds this year – marking him down as a consistent contender.

And the 38-year-old sees his performances at the big events as a reason to be confident in Kent this week, even as fellow former Champion Golfer of the Year Spieth lurks ominously just behind.

"It gives me confidence going into majors knowing that I'm still competing in them and I've still got chances of winning," he said.

"But, yes, once the week starts, I need to get that out of my mind and just focus on every round and every shot.

"But it definitely puts me in a better frame of mind going into the week."

Oosthuizen's round was anchored by a fine showing with the putter, averaging 1.4 putts per greens in regulation.

It is an area of his game that Oosthuizen has put a lot of work into and he was glad to see it paying dividends.

"Most of the work I've done was on routine, going back to a few things that I've done early in my career," he explained.

"Every time I go out and do a bit of work on the putting green to just do the same work and the same drills and the same things and get into a really good routine on practice.

"Now when I get on the golf course, it's paying off for me."

Jordan Spieth staked an early claim for a second Open title with a stunning first-round 65 at Royal St George's.

The three-time major winner, who triumphed at Royal Birkdale in 2017, was in fine form on Thursday as he reached five under to sit one stroke behind fellow former Champion Golfer of the Year Louis Oosthuizen. Oosthuizen was still out on the course.

Spieth has the good fortune to be playing alongside Branden Grace, who has featured with the eventual winner in the opening two rounds of the previous two Opens.

The South African teed off in a group with Francesco Molinari at Carnoustie in 2018, before playing alongside Shane Lowry at Royal Portrush a year later.

Spieth's showing put him two ahead of the next-best clubhouse score, with four players on three under.

 

Reigning champion Shane Lowry and pre-tournament favourite Jon Rahm both faced an uphill battle to get involved in the race for the Claret Jug.

Irishman lowry was one over through 16, with U.S. Open champion Rahm one stroke further back at the same stage.

Rory McIlroy tees off at 15:21 local time with the hotly tipped Patrick Reed for company.

The 149th Open Championship got under way at Royal St George's on Thursday, with Jon Rahm the hot favourite to prevail.

Englishman Richard Bland, who won his first European Tour title on his 478th start at the British Open in May, had the honour of teeing off proceedings at 06:35 local time at the Kent links, which is hosting for the 15th time.

Rahm claimed his maiden major with victory at this year's U.S. Open and will attempt to wrestle the Claret Jug from the grasp of playing partner Shane Lowry, with 2010 Champion Golfer of the Year Louis Oosthuizen completing a trio that tees off at 09:58.

Lowry, who is aiming to become the first player to successfully defend the prize at this course since Harry Vardon in 1899, proved a popular winner at Royal Portrush two years ago, with the 2020 event having been cancelled amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Spaniard Rahm is eyeing a rare double, with only six players having won the U.S. Open and Open Championship in the same year.

The omens bode well for the in-form Jordan Spieth after he was drawn alongside Bryson DeChambeau and good-luck charm Branden Grace.

Grace has played with the eventual winner in his first two rounds at each of the previous two Opens.

The South African featured with Francesco Molinari at Carnoustie in 2018 and Lowry in Northern Ireland the following year. 

Four-time major champion Rory McIlroy will head out in the afternoon with Patrick Reed and Cameron Smith, while world number one Dustin Johnson starts his bid for a first Open title at 10:20 with Will Zalatoris and Justin Rose for company.

Brooks Koepka is an 08:45 starter and the star attraction of a threesome that includes Jason Kokrak and Garrick Higgo.

Darren Clarke, who prevailed when last Royal St George's last hosted in 2011, goes out at 08:25 alongside Bernd Wiesberger and amateur Joe Long.

After an enforced absence in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, The Open is thankfully back on this year's golf calendar.

Royal St George's will host the 149th edition of the tournament, a welcome return to the Kent course that saw Darren Clarke triumph a decade ago.

Shane Lowry is the defending champion, having prevailed at Royal Portrush in 2019, but can he retain his crown? Will one of the big guns instead get their hands on the famous Claret Jug, or could another long shot follow in the footsteps of Ben Curtis, an unlikely champion at the venue back in 2003?

Ahead of the opening round, it is time to take a look at some of the players who could be in contention for glory in the final major of the year.

 

RAHM READY FOR OPEN CHALLENGE – Nicholas McGee

Jon Rahm has struggled to capture his best in four previous appearances at The Open, just one of which has seen him finish with an under-par score (-3 in 2019). However, only in 2018 has he missed the cut, and his blistering form in 2021 suggests he should be firmly in the mix this week.

His 11 top-10 finishes rank as the most on the PGA Tour this season. Rahm also leads the tour in scoring average (69.6) and in strokes gained (2.02 avg). Second in strokes gained tee to green and (1.82 avg) and fifth in greens in regulation (71 per cent), Rahm has displayed consistency that should lend itself to links golf. Further optimism came with a seventh-placed finish at the Scottish Open. The stage looks set for him to emphatically turn his Open fortunes around.

SPIETH HAS THE BELIEF – Russell Greaves

Jordan Spieth has three key things in his favour at this tournament: he's a man in form, he's exceptional with the putter, and he's won it before. The 2017 Champion Golfer of the Year has an overall putting average of 1.566 on the PGA Tour in 2021, placing him seventh in that metric.

That showing on the greens has laid the foundations for a year in which the 27-year-old has enjoyed eight top-10 finishes. He was in a tie for third at the Masters and boasts a career aggregate score of 21 under at the Open Championship, marking him down as a leading contender in Kent.

NO DOUBTING THOMAS AFTER RECENT RUN – Dan Lewis

Justin Thomas has struggled on the links in his career but ended up in a tie for eighth at the Scottish Open last week – his first top-10 finish since winning the Players Championship in March. He opened and closed with rounds of 65 at the Renaissance Club, where he used a new putter, and has not carded a bogey in his last 25 holes.

The 28-year-old may not be among the top group of contenders, but the 2017 US PGA Championship winner is certainly capable of carrying his momentum into this event to claim a second major in his career.

DUSTIN'S TIME TO HAVE A MAJOR IMPACT - Timothy Abraham

The form book might be against him, but world number one Dustin Johnson can have a Claret Jug-shaped silver lining to a disappointing 2021 in the majors. The American failed to make the cut at both the Masters and the US PGA Championship, alongside a 19th-placed finish in the U.S. Open this year.

An aggregate career score of +15 in The Open is hardly the stuff of a potential champion, but a decade ago he tied second behind champion Clarke. Johnson is a better player now, and the type of optimist capable of winning a major out of the blue. Write him off at your peril.

GLORY FOR RORY AGAIN? ABSOLUTELY! – Chris Myson

The Open champion in 2014, Rory McIlroy is rightly seen as a contender in Kent. He did miss the cut at this tournament in 2019 – but that was the first time he has done so since 2013.

When the Northern Irishman gets to the weekend at The Open, he is usually competitive. He had four consecutive top-five finishes prior to his previous disappointing outing and has a total of five in his career, including that triumph seven years ago. A top 10 at the U.S. Open gave McIlroy some much-needed major momentum and he can now finish with a flourish in his final opportunity this year.

HATTON CAN LINK IT ALL TOGETHER - John Skilbeck

Considering the winners Royal St George's has thrown up in the 21st century - Curtis and a past-his-prime Clarke - you might as well stick a pin in the field and take your chances. Tyrrell Hatton has twice won the Dunhill Links Championship which points to him knowing how to handle an Open course, and he has scored victories on each side of the Atlantic in the past 18 months so brings recent experience of closing out tournaments successfully.

Whether he wins or not is another thing: there are missed cuts on his Open Championship CV. However, two top-six finishes in the last four editions suggests the Englishman might not be far away.

U.S. Open winner Jon Rahm will tee off alongside 2019 Champion Golfer of the Year Shane Lowry at the 2021 Open Championship on Thursday.

Spaniard Rahm won his maiden major at Torrey Pines, edging out Louis Oosthuizen by one stroke, and is among the favourites to prevail at Royal St George's this week. 

Lowry was a popular winner when golf's oldest major was held at Royal Portrush two years ago, with the 2020 event having been cancelled amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Irishman, whose trio goes out at 09:58 local time and also includes 2010 victor Oosthuizen, will seek to become the first man to defend the Claret Jug at the Kent links since Harry Vardon in 1899.

Any superstitious players might have hoped to be drawn in Branden Grace's group, as he has played with the eventual winner in his first two rounds at each of the previous two Opens.

The South African featured with Francesco Molinari at Carnoustie in 2018 and Lowry in Northern Ireland the following year. 

 

Jordan Spieth, a winner in 2017, and 2020 U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau are the lucky pair, with that group teeing off at 09:25.

Four-time major champion Rory McIlroy will head out in the afternoon with Patrick Reed and Cameron Smith, while world number one Dustin Johnson starts his bid for a first Open title at 10:20 with Will Zalatoris and Justin Rose for company.

Brooks Koepka is an 08:45 starter and the star attraction of a threesome that includes Jason Kokrak and Garrick Higgo.

Darren Clarke, who prevailed when last Royal St George's last hosted in 2011, is an 08:25 starter alongside Bernd Wiesberger and amateur Joe Long.

The action will begin at 06:35, with English trio Richard Bland, Andy Sullivan and Marcus Armitage having the honour.

Jon Rahm birdied his final two holes to outlast Louis Oosthuizen by one stroke for U.S. Open victory and his first major title.

Oosthuizen was in a three-way share of the lead heading into the deciding round and opened up a one-shot lead on a gripping final day at Torrey Pines.

But Rahm rallied in San Diego, where the emotional Spanish star dramatically birdied the 17th and 18th holes to claim a lead he never relinquished on Sunday.

Rahm signed for a four-under-par 67 to finish six under through 72 holes as 2010 Open Championship winner Oosthuizen (71) settled for a runners-up cheque.

At the scene of his maiden PGA Tour win – the 2017 Farmers Insurance Open – Rahm became the fourth player from Spain to win a major and first at the U.S. Open.

Rahm, who was forced to withdraw from the Memorial Tournament when leading by six shots after testing positive for coronavirus earlier this month, said post-round: "I'm a big believer in karma. After what happened a couple of weeks ago, I stayed really positive, knowing big things were coming.

"I didn't know what it was going to be, but I knew we were coming to a special place, I know I got my breakthrough win here, and it's a very special place for my family. The fact my parents were able to come, I got out of COVID protocol early, I just felt like the stars were aligning.

"I can't even believe I made the first two putts! This was definitely for Seve [Ballesteros]. I know he tried a lot, and wanted to win this one most of all. I just don't know how to explain it! I don't know why, but every time we land here, we are happy. We’re in our spot!"

Oosthuizen was initially circumspect on day four, going one over through eight holes to leave the South African one shot behind defending champion Bryson DeChambeau – who came agonisingly close to a sensational hole-in-one at the par-three eighth.

But DeChambeau was unable to maintain his hot start, finishing with a forgettable six-over-par 77 to end the event eight shots off the pace.

Oosthuizen also failed to keep Rahm at bay – dropped shots at the 11th and 17th holes, paving the way for the red-hot Spanish golfer to emerge triumphant for the first time at a major.

Harris English (68) finished solo third, a stroke better off than Guido Migliozzi (68), two-time U.S. Open winner Brooks Koepka (69) and Collin Morikawa (70) as former world number one Rory McIlroy's final-round 73 resulted in a share of seventh spot at one under.

World number one Dustin Johnson (74) and fellow stars Jordan Spieth (72) Justin Thomas (73), Patrick Reed (67) and Sergio Garcia (68) closed out the event tied for 19th.

Richard Bland upstaged a star-studded field to earn a share of the U.S. Open lead at the halfway stage as defending champion Bryson DeChambeau soared up the leaderboard.

Unheralded Englishman Bland, 48, powered to the top of the summit at Torrey Pines thanks to his four-under-par 67 in San Diego, where he continues to prove patience pays off.

Alongside Russell Henley (70) for the one-stroke lead after two rounds, Bland is benefitting from perseverance, having gone almost 20 years without a European Tour title.

At the 478th attempt on the European Tour last month, Bland claimed an emotional win at the British Masters, which earned him a place in his fourth major championship.

Bland – who missed the cut at his one previous U.S. Open appearance in 2009 – dazzled on day two of this year's tournament, storming into the clubhouse lead before being joined by American Henley.

After opening with a 70, Bland holed seven birdies and three bogeys to catapult himself to the top of the standings, before Henley teed off in his second round, amid his improbable dream of clinching a major.

"I feel good about my game," said three-time PGA Tour champion Henley, whose previous best performance at a major came via an 11th-place finish at the 2017 Masters.

"I've never been in this position before in a major. Just feel like I'm going to learn something no matter what happens."

Louis Oosthuizen (71), who was the overnight co-leader along with Henley, ended day two in a tie for third position alongside Matthew Wolff (68), while Bubba Watson (67) and Jon Rahm (70) are a shot further back at three under through 36 holes.

DeChambeau boosted his hopes of back-to-back U.S. Open titles, though the big-hitting American star remains five strokes off the pace heading into the weekend.

A two-under-par 69 saw DeChambeau move to even par as he rose 47 positions into a tie for 13th alongside rival and two-time U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka (73), Justin Thomas (69), Collin Morikawa (67), Harris English (70), Branden Grace (70), Christiaan Bezuidenhout (70) and Adam Hadwin (72).

Koepka – eyeing a fifth major crown – lost ground on the leaders after mixing five bogeys and just three birdies, while Rory McIlroy followed his opening-round 70 with a 73 to be one over the card as world number one Dustin Johnson (73) ended the day two over.

US PGA Championship winner Phil Mickelson emerged from the jaws of elimination, qualifying for the weekend via a two-under-par 69 after his forgettable 75 on Thursday.

Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama (76), Adam Scott (75), Sergio Garcia (74), Patrick Reed (73) and Jordan Spieth (69) all avoided the cut, but Justin Rose (77) was not so fortunate at 13 over.

Bubba Watson believes golf should be celebrating the biggest hitters in the game – and he cannot work out why the sport is so "mad at that guy".

Without naming Bryson DeChambeau, Watson appeared to have his mind set on the likes of the man who leads the PGA Tour for driving distance this season.

DeChambeau, who is driving an average of over 320 yards, has faced some flak for placing such an emphasis on physical strength and building up his body to be more powerful off the tee. He plays with custom clubs, each of the same length, and is the defending champion this week at the U.S. Open, an unorthodox winner who rubs some up the wrong way.

Two-time Masters champion Watson, after moving into contention following the second round at Torrey Pines, used his platform to condemn what he sees as a culture of negativity towards players re-thinking the game and finding new ways to win.

"Truthfully, here's the sad part for me. I've got the microphone so I'm going to talk. The sad part for me is we celebrate every sport in the world. We celebrate accomplishments. We celebrate a guy scoring 50 points in the NBA. They are not saying quit shooting three-pointers. But we don't celebrate when a guy makes eight birdies or a guy bombs it 400 yards," Watson said.

"I don't understand how we're not celebrating. We're trying to make golf courses bigger, harder, dumber, however you want to word it, but we're not celebrating our great players.

"I'm definitely not in that group of great players. I'm saying I want to see these guys hammering the ball. I want the next up-and-comer. I want a 6ft 8in guy not playing in the NBA, I want to see him on the PGA Tour bombing the ball.

"We're the only sport not celebrating accomplishments of being a guy working out in the gym that can hit the ball miles. We're mad at that guy. I don't know why, but we are. I'm not, but some people are – golf course designers.

"The NBA, Tom Brady winning, throwing touchdowns, we celebrate that. They don't ever talk about us chopping out of the – hey, he laid up again. That's great. Anyway, that's my rant for the day."

Watson was offloading that baggage after adding a 67 to his opening 72 to reach three under, looking sure to be in contention going into the weekend as he sits just two shots behind clubhouse leader Richard Bland.

DeChambeau followed a 73 with a 69 to sit on level par, still in the hunt at five off the pace.

That was a far healthier position than Patrick Reed, Justin Rose and Jordan Spieth found themselves in.

Reed bogeyed his final hole to slip to three over, a five-foot putt brushing the edge of the cup. Reed won the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines earlier this year but was on the borderline of the cut mark after his round on Friday.

Rose added a 77 to his opening 78, and that meant the former champion had no chance of staying around for the weekend's action.

Three-time major winner Spieth followed an opening 77 with a gutsy 69 to give himself a slim chance of making the cut.

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