Louis Oosthuizen has, unfortunately, become synonymous with near misses at major championships over the course of his career. The 2010 Open champion has six runner-up finishes since cradling that Claret Jug over a decade ago, so his contention at the 149th Open Championship at Royal St. George’s is no surprise.
What perhaps is a surprise, though, is that he’s only held the 36-hole outright lead at a major one other time: that 2010 Open at St. Andrews.
After shooting a 65 in Round 2 on Friday to follow his opening-round 64, Oosthuizen reset the Open 36-hole scoring record at 129. His 11-under mark leads Collin Morikawa by two and Jordan Spieth by three.
Oosthuizen ended his day only one stroke away from tying the all-time 36-hole scoring mark at any major, which was set by Brooks Koepka at 128 at the 2019 PGA Championship. It’s the ninth consecutive major round in which Oosthuizen has been inside the top three on the leaderboard.
“To have any record at the Open or part of any record at the Open is always very special,” said Oosthuizen. “I think I’ve played really good the last two days. I probably played a bit better yesterday in the conditions we were playing in, but today, we got really, I would say, lucky sort of the last nine holes. It was as good a weather as you can get playing this golf course.”
Oosthuizen has been nearly flawless over the first two days. After going 33 straight holes without a bogey and running his score to 12 under with an eagle at the par-5 14th, it looked like Koepka’s mark might be in jeopardy. However, Oosthuizen made bogey on the par-3 16th hole and parred in for the 65. Oosthuizen has hit 68% of fairways and 81% of greens in regulation, well above field average in both categories. He’s made as many eagles (one) as bogeys while — as usual — making everything seem so easy.
His reward at the halfway point is a slight advantage over a cadre of thoroughbreds. Morikawa is two back; Spieth is three behind. Dustin Johnson is four off the lead, and Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm are six behind. Golfers within six of Oosthuizen have a combined 11 majors to his one. Oosty will not only be battling himself and his own personal history at major championships but also some of the best champions the sport can conceivably conjure up to throw at him over the final two days of play.
Two shots is not a big lead, but if Oosthuizen had an extra two shots to play with at every major he’s ever been in, he’d have at least five major championship trophies in a room at his house. Twice he’s lost in playoffs at majors. Two other times he’s lost by one. Twice more he’s lost by just two.
“I just need to pull it through and see if I can go one better on this weekend,” said Oosthuizen. “The game is good, but I know it’s a really good leaderboard. I have to play good golf this weekend if I want to come out first.”
This is the most compelling type of leaderboard in golf. Everyone knows how a pretender is going to fare on the weekend against champions like the ones on this board. We all saw what was going to happen to Richard Bland when he led the U.S. Open after 36 holes.
Oosthuizen is no pretender. He took a trophy on the most historic course on the planet, and he did it by pulverizing the field (albeit against a much less-decorated 36-hole leaderboard).
Could that happen again? Is his best chance to win this weekend in Sandwich, England, an absolute blowout? It could be. But it’s not like Oosty has ejected at any of his previous runner-up finishes. His final-round scoring average in those six runner-up finishes is 69.8. Heck, even in his last two — at this year’s PGA Championship and U.S. Open — his hands have been fairly steady coming home. He only has one score of worse than 36 in any of his last 21 nine-hole stretches at majors. That’s astounding.
The stage is set. The tournament has a plot. Its characters are both well-known and well-equipped for the drama ahead.
Oosthuizen has owned this major season. Even without winning, his name and game have permeated the biggest championships in this sport. All that remains is an answer to the question that’s been asked for three straight months.
Will Louis Oosthuizen stand alone at the end of the week?
For the first time in 11 years, he’s by himself on Friday evening. But getting out in front of Morikawa, Spieth, D.J., Koepka and Rahm after just 36 holes, well, that was the easy part.