Moving day was living up to its billing early in round three of The Open as Tommy Fleetwood joined the co-leaders at eight under and Jordan Spieth, Brooks Koepka and Justin Rose each made early progress.

Clear skies at Royal Portrush was making for plenty of birdie opportunities and Fleetwood, starting just one shot back, made a gain on the first to move to eight under.

That was the same score as overnight leaders Shane Lowry and J.B. Holmes, who both parred the first hole.

Jordan Spieth was one adrift after back-to-back gains at the second and third, while Koepka and Rose birdied the second and were seven and six under respectively.

Cameron Smith also picked up a shot at the second, the par five proving a popular hole, and the Australian was at seven under, as was Lee Westwood.

There was plenty of movement from the earlier starters as well. Danny Willett was five under for the round through 13 and two shots back of the leaders, joining Xander Schauffele, Tony Finau, Henrik Stenson and Park Sang-hyun at six under.

Francesco Molinari hopes to soon be celebrating an Open Championship win for Tommy Fleetwood and insists the Englishman is destined to claim a major one day.

The 2018 Champion Golfer of the Year paired up with Fleetwood to form a formidable partnership at last year's Ryder Cup.

They became known collectively as 'Moliwood' and now the Italian half of that duo, who won the Claret Jug by two strokes at Carnoustie, wants to see his close friend's name next to his own on the famous silverware.

Fleetwood sat third at the midway point in Northern Ireland, just one stroke behind leading duo J.B. Holmes and Shane Lowry.

"It would make a good story for you guys to have the two of us, one next to the other on the Claret Jug," said Molinari after shooting a 72 at Royal Portrush on Saturday, having narrowly made the cut.

"He's a friend and I'll cheer him on and hopefully he can get it done. There is still a long way to go but he's there definitely with a chance. If it's not this week I think it's coming soon.

"The way he plays, he's a very talented player and he's still very young.

"Talking about expectations, he needs to wait for his time and it will come, for sure. The way he plays and the way he handles himself, it's just a matter of time. 

"I hope for him it will be this week, it will be great to have his name next to mine on the Claret Jug and we can have a big party together next week."

Fleetwood, 28, goes out in the penultimate group alongside compatriot Lee Westwood on a day of generally favourable conditions on the Dunluce Links.

Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and the rest of the pack chasing J.B. Holmes and Shane Lowry will have been licking their lips at the conditions for round three of The Open.

Royal Portrush was treated to clear skies and sunshine with only the slightest breeze for the early starters looking to climb the leaderboard on moving day, with the forecast suggesting the weather would stay the same throughout the day.

Lowry and Holmes are at eight under par after the opening two rounds and were scheduled to tee off at 3.50pm local time on the Dunluce Links.

Fleetwood and Lee Westwood (both -7) were set for the penultimate group, with Cameron Smith and Justin Harding – who were two shots back – the third-from-last pairing.

Rose and Koepka, who were two and three back respectively, were set to head to the first for a 3.20pm tee-off time.

Rory McIlroy may not have made the weekend, but another local hero Graeme McDowell drew plenty of local support and showed how it could be done by shooting a three-under-par 68.

Lucas Glover and Park Sang-hyun were three under through four and five holes of their respective third rounds, while Tom Lewis was at the same score having played 14.

Rory McIlroy hopes his stunning second round of 65 can be a springboard for success in the remainder of the year, even though it was not quite enough to avoid missing the cut at The Open.

After a disastrous 79 on the opening day, the Northern Irishman thrilled his home crowd at Royal Portrush with a fabulous fightback that saw him come up agonisingly short of qualifying for the weekend.

McIlroy carded seven birdies - five of them after the turn - but was unable to find another at either the 17th or 18th, leaving him at two over and narrowly on the wrong side of the cut line.

The four-time major winner became emotional during his post-round interview with Sky Sports but, when speaking in the mixed zone later, was keen to look to the future and the rest of his 2019 season.

"One of the great things about golf is there's always next week," McIlroy told the media. "I've got a pretty big tournament in Memphis to go to and I'm leaving here with a pretty solid golf game. 

"Obviously what happened yesterday was a bit of an anomaly, and there's a few big numbers thrown in there. But I felt today I showed the real Rory McIlroy and the golf that I can play.

"Even though the major season is over for me, there's still a lot to play for for me this year. 

"The rest of the PGA Tour schedule to go, and I'm probably going to have a pretty busy fall season. I've still got to play probably between eight and ten tournaments before the end of the year.

"The major season is over but the season and trying to finish the year off on a positive note isn't."

McIlroy had started his tournament with a quadruple bogey at the first but it was a poor finish to his opening round that stung the most, having dropped five shots over the closing three holes.

"Today was probably one of the most fun rounds of golf I've ever played," the 30-year-old said.

"It's strange saying that standing here and having had a bit of success and won this championship before, and just to be battling to make the cut.

"To play in front of those crowds today and to feel that momentum and really dig in, it's going to be a tough one to get over. I'll probably rue the finish yesterday, dropping five shots on the last three holes.

"But I felt like I gave a good account of myself today and I can leave here with my head held high."

Rory McIlroy was moved to the brink of tears by the support from the Royal Portrush crowd as he fell agonisingly short in his heroic bid to make the cut at The Open.

The home favourite appeared dead and buried after his opening-round 79, which included a quadruple-bogey eight at the first hole.

But on Friday he electrified the Dunluce Links with a stunning 65 that took him to within a whisker of making the weekend on home soil.

However, a poor approach at 18 left him with a near-impossible chip from off the green that he could only put within five feet, leaving him one stroke short of an incredible revival.

"Part of me is very disappointed not to be here for the weekend," the four-time major winner told Sky Sports.

"Disappointed and emotional but happy with how I played.

"The support I got out there was incredible. You could see out there on the back nine if I'd got that momentum a little bit yesterday, I went with it today and that's what I was planning to do all week.

"Yesterday gave me a big mountain to climb but I dug in there, I tried my best, I showed really good resilience.

"It's going to hurt for a little bit but the good thing about golf is I've got a tournament to play in Memphis next week so I'm going to turn my attention to that.

"But this is a week I've been looking forward to for a long time."

McIlroy will now assume a watching brief as the remainder of the field battle it out for the Claret Jug he won in 2014.

And the 30-year-old is looking forward to watching co-leader Shane Lowry go for glory, with the Irishman on eight under alongside J.B. Holmes, leading a chasing pack that features the likes of Tommy Fleetwood, Lee Westwood, Justin Rose and Brooks Koepka.

"I can't wait to watch him [Lowry] over the weekend," said McIlroy. "I was following the board closely and I saw he got to 10 under with a few holes to go and dropped back.

"Shane will relish these conditions and he's the home boy that's up there now so he's going to get all of this support that I got. 

"Hopefully they can pull him on and I'd love nothing more than to see Shane get his name on that Claret Jug."

It was time to say goodbye for half the field at Royal Portrush on Friday as the Open Championship cranked up a notch.

Many of the morning and early afternoon starters were treated to favourable scoring conditions on the Dunluce Links, which made for a fascinating leaderboard.

But many were disappointed having missed the cut in Northern Ireland - not least of all home favourite Rory McIlroy - and will have to take a watching brief for the final two rounds.

Our Omnisport writers were out and about on Friday, bringing you some of the highlights you may have missed.


ASK A SILLY QUESTION...

Brooks Koepka was speaking to the media about perceived putting woes after his second round.

The four-time major winner spoke of his belief that he would be higher up the leaderboard had he got his flatstick going, which led to this amusing exchange.

"Did you expect to be leading?" "I wanted to, but it's hard to when you don't make any putts." "So you'd rather lead? Some people like to sneak under the radar." "No, I'd rather be in last place..."

Never change, Brooks.


HOLMES HAS AN ACE UP HIS SLEEVES

J.B. Holmes kept himself firmly in contention for a maiden major title yet spent the majority of his media conference fielding questions about his dog.

Fellow dog-lover Tommy Fleetwood had already spoken of his envy over Holmes' ability to take his pooch to many PGA Tour events, although the American doesn't have him in Northern Ireland.

Holmes' four-legged friend is called Ace and he's a miniature Goldendoodle who cost $5,000 at a charity auction and is much loved by the entire Holmes family.

The question the 37-year-old had to think hardest about was whether he preferred his dog or his caddie.

"Oh, that's tough," he said while pondering his reply. "They're both my best friend."

 

CONFLICTING LEVELS OF OPTIMISM FOR RORY

McIlroy had a day to forget on Thursday. In fact he had a day the packed-out course at Royal Portrush wanted to forget.

But his opening-day woes and the drizzly rain did little to dampen the spirits of a partisan crowd when McIlroy played the first hole of his second round, as people jostled for position to catch a glimpse of their hero.

One spectator standing next to a member of the Omnisport team yelled that "61 will do it Rory!" in a true show of encouragement.

Another fan whispered rather more sheepishly: "He needs nothing short of a miracle..."

In fairness, we all know who was realistically speaking the truth...

It was a close-run thing as McIlroy added a sparkling 65 to his opening 79, but there was to be no miracle of Portrush for the Northern Irishman.

O'DRISCOLL TALKS TACKLING PORTRUSH

Two of Omnisport's crew took a trip over to the spectators' village at Royal Portrush to chat with HSBC ambassadors Tim Henman and Brian O'Driscoll.

The competitive nature of both men clearly still burns strong as a spot of crazy golf was in order before it was interview time.

Ireland rugby union great O'Driscoll spoke about playing Portrush a few weeks ago. So, what score did you shoot Brian?

"I actually played well. I had a 74, which is one of my career low scores," he said. "I started a bit ropey with bogey-double, then I went one under from there so it was definitely one to remember."

Some people are just good at everything...

Co-leader Shane Lowry insists the ghosts of Oakmont will not play on his mind as he attempts to win a maiden major title at the Open Championship.

Irishman Lowry carded a second consecutive score of 67 to get to eight under par through two rounds, putting him level with J.B. Holmes and one ahead of Tommy Fleetwood and Lee Westwood.

The second day could have been better for Lowry, who got to 10 under at the 10th before giving a shot back at 14 and three-putting for bogey at the last.

Three years ago, Lowry led by four shots going into the last 18 holes of the U.S. Open at Oakmont before a nightmare final round saw him finish three shots adrift of winner Dustin Johnson.

"Oakmont was so long ago and I was a lot younger. I feel like if I get the opportunity this week I'll be better," said Lowry, who has recorded his best 36-hole score in a major.

"I'm trying to say it definitely won't affect me what happened in Oakmont. Obviously, I've got over that. It took me a while to get over it but I got over it.

"I'm just out here on the tour trying to compete as best I can. This week it's pretty good, so hopefully I can just continue on over the next couple of days and see where it leaves me."

Lowry admitted there is no way he could not think about winning the tournament, but the 32-year-old recognises there is still a long way to go in the battle for the Claret Jug.

"You start thinking about it when people start asking you about it!" he said.

"I'm obviously going to be thinking about it tonight. There's no point in shying away from it. I'm in a great position.

"But, my God, have we got a long way to go. There's two rounds of golf on this golf course against the best field in the world.

"I need to go out and shoot the best score I can tomorrow and hopefully it leaves me in a decent position on into Sunday."

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson shared a piece of unwanted history at The Open Championship on Friday.

The key to the success of two of golf's greatest stars has been their longevity, with Woods winning 15 major titles and Mickelson five during their distinguished careers.

But, there have of course been the inevitable disappointments and this weekend at Royal Portrush has been one such occasion as Woods and Mickelson failed to make the cut.

That in itself is not particularly remarkable, even the greatest have their share of underwhelming major tournaments.

What is astounding is that it marks the first time Woods and Mickelson have missed the cut at the same major tournament, and just the fourth time the pair have done so on the PGA Tour.

They last both missed the cut at the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Woods shot a one-under-par 70 on Friday, but it was nowhere near enough to negate the damage from an opening-round 78.

Mickelson, meanwhile, shot a pair of 74s and will not be sticking around for Saturday and Sunday.

Shane Lowry bogeyed the 18th as he settled for a share of The Open Championship lead at Royal Portrush.

The Irishman, who is seeking a first major title, looked set to displace J.B. Holmes at the summit as he stood over a birdie putt at the last with a one-stroke lead.

However, he three-putted from there to drop a shot and slip to eight under par, alongside Holmes.

Dylan Frittelli - the last man to qualify for the event - looked on course to at least match that score, but toiled to a double-bogey six at 17.

Lowry birdied four of the first five holes, making the most of favourable weather early in his round, and had held firm amid worsening conditions until the final green.

Holmes had earlier carded a 68 to back-up his 66 from Thursday, with Tommy Fleetwood and Lee Westwood one shot further back.

Joining that English duo in the chasing pack was compatriot Justin Rose, the 2013 U.S. Open champion signing for a 67 at a tournament where he shared second place last year.

The seemingly ever-present threat of Brooks Koepka at majors looms large heading into the weekend, the form man on five under.

But some lesser lights edged ahead of the world number one at the midway point, with Cameron Smith and Justin Harding, who shot a 65, firmly in the mix.

It was a day that signalled the end of the road for Tiger Woods, though, the Masters champion's one-under-par 70 not enough to mitigate his woeful opening-round 78.

Home hope Rory McIlroy seemed destined to suffer the same fate despite impressively clawing back four shots over his first 11 holes to get to four over.

Reigning champion Francesco Molinari was able to kick-start a revival, though, getting back to the projected cut mark of one over at the turn.

Lee Westwood is enjoying having his girlfriend on caddie duties after boosting his Open Championship title chances on Friday. 

The Englishman has never won a major but his second-round 67 put him firmly in the hunt for the Claret Jug on seven under, with J.B. Holmes the only man in the clubhouse on a lower score.

Westwood has had partner Helen Storey on the bag at Royal Portrush and, despite her lack of golf knowledge, she has been a great help to him.

"Obviously I get on well with Helen," he said. "She doesn't know too much about golf but she knows a lot about the way my mind works.

"She keeps me in a good frame of mind and focusing on the right things at the right time. There's more to the caddying than carrying and getting the wind direction.

"I enjoy doing it all myself. Get the yardage, pull the club, it's all my responsibility, and I'm 100 per cent clear in my mind what I'm doing."

And he revealed some of the perks his other half is enjoying caddying at a headline event.

"She's delighted because they've got their own rakers. She doesn't have to rake the bunkers," he said. 

Asked if his opening two rounds had changed his perception of what was possible over the weekend, the 46-year-old was keen to play it cool.

"I haven't got any expectations. I'm just swinging quite well at the moment," he said.

"I've had a couple of weeks of links golf where I played well and made the most of how I played, and this week it's happening.

"It's nice to do it at the Open Championship, it's a big tournament and prestigious tournament and on a great golf course. It's just happened at the right time."

Tiger Woods still loves "the stress" of playing major golf but expressed frustration at not being able to compete at the top of the leaderboards after his Masters triumph.

The American great started The Open Championship with a seven-over-par 78 on Thursday and could only go one under on a favourable day of scoring at Royal Portrush in round two.

With the projected cutline hovering around one over, Woods will not be around for the weekend in Northern Ireland.

Since his dramatic Masters win in April, Woods will have missed the cut in two majors and tied 21st at the U.S. Open – a return that does not sit well with the 15-time major winner. 

"It's more frustrating than anything else because this is a major championship and I love playing in these events," said Woods, who has missed multiple cuts at majors in the same season for just the second time in his career. 

"I love the atmosphere. I love just the stress of playing in a major and unfortunately, I've only had a chance to win one of them and was able to do it. 

"But the other three I didn't do very well."

Woods is now planning on taking some time off ahead of the FedExCup Playoffs on the PGA Tour, which begin in August.

"I'm going to take a couple of weeks off and get ready for the playoffs. We've got the playoffs coming up and anything can happen," he added.

"Last year I almost stole the whole FedEx Cup at the very end. If it wasn't for Rosie's [Justin Rose] little break there at the bunker, it could have been interesting.

"So get ready for those events and after that have a break."

Jordan Spieth says the conditions he played in growing up are why he enjoys playing links golf so much as he left himself well in contention after his second round at the Open Championship.

The 2017 champion went around Royal Portrush in 67 on Friday and is five under for the tournament, which was four back of the leading score.

Spieth also tied fourth in 2015 and was co-leading heading into the final round at Carnoustie a year ago before falling away and finishing in a tie for ninth. 

"It's pretty much the style of golf," Spieth replied when asked about his performances in The Open. 

"I always get pumped up for major championships, clearly I try to peak for majors and then this style of golf I've always found to fit my game pretty well.

"I just grew up in the wind, having to play a lot of different shots and using imagination around the greens on the course I grew up at. 

"So, it's different but it feeds well into this style of golf and then we don't see it very often. I wish we were able to see it more. I love links golf."

Spieth's American compatriot Brooks Koepka – who has gone 2-1-2 in the majors in 2019 – also made it back to the clubhouse at five under.

The four-time major winner feels he would be higher on the leaderboard had he been hotter with the putter over the opening two days.

"I didn't make a putt all week. I just need to figure that out. If I can make some putts I could very easily be 10 under and really maybe more," he said.

"I haven't made anything. On the front nine I didn't hit it as good as I'd like. I didn't pitch it as good. It's tough to really score if you're going to do that.

"It's frustrating. You've just got to stay patient and just wait your turn, just like I did on 12 and 13 [where he made back-to-back birdies]. I haven't really hit anything too close yet, either.

"I feel like some of my good shots have just been a little too far away from the hole. So, if I can just clean it up just the slightest little bit I could be off and running."

Open Championship contender J.B. Holmes feared his career was practically over just four weeks ago following an abysmal slump in form.

The American carded rounds of 66 and 68 to head into this weekend among the leading pack at Royal Portrush on eight under par.

His exploits in Northern Ireland stand in stark contrast to his recent outings on the PGA Tour, where missed cuts have been the norm.

Asked if he had ever endured a similar loss of form before, the 37-year-old replied: "Never. That was the first one. The first one of that extent.

"Obviously I've had slumps before, but four weeks ago I thought my career was over. Or felt like it."

Holmes believes his return to the top of his game owes much to the Dunluce Links course, which he has tamed better than most over the first two days.

"It's set up great for me," he said. "I felt good about it kind of all week. I've been hitting it really good.

"I feel like me and my caddie have a good plan on it and we've felt comfortable and we've executed the shots."

Shane Lowry made a flying to start to round two of The Open Championship as Lee Westwood surged into contention and J.B. Holmes reached the clubhouse at eight under par.

Overnight leader Holmes backed up his opening 66 with a three-under 68 at Royal Portrush.

Irishman Lowry was at the same score having birdied four of his first five holes in an electric opening to his round on Friday.

Westwood matched the seven under through two rounds posted by Tommy Fleetwood as the early starters capitalised on favourable scoring conditions.

Justin Rose was at six under and had one hole remaining, with Cameron Smith and Justin Harding back home at the same score.

Brooks Koepka and Jordan Spieth were three shots off the lead having completed their rounds. Tony Finau was also five under with a hole to play.

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