Holmes and Lowry atop the leaderboard as The Open remains wide open

A packed leaderboard with only four strokes separating as many as seventeen men means there is plenty to expect this weekend in the 148th Open Championship

Shane Lowry - The Open

Portrush, 20 July 2019: Ireland’s Shane Lowry shoulders local hopes after the early exit of Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke. Graeme McDowell is still in the 148th Open Championship, but at 1-over his chances of victory are slim to non-existent. Lowry is an Irish golfer and even though, that isn’t the same as one from Northern Ireland, he is set to experience enormous support as he tries to battle the likes of J. B. Holmes who is tied with him at 8-under through 36 holes.

Hero - The Open - 2019
Hero – The Open – 2019

But it is far from a two-horse race. In fact, there are seventeen golfers within four strokes of each other. With the Dunluce Links being penal on any erratic golf, that amounts to nothing. The race to emerge Champion Golfer is wide open and the weekend promises to be a thrilling spectacle, even with several of the marquee names taking an early flight out from Royal Portrush.

Tiger Woods left the course grimacing in disappointment, craving some rest. Phil Mickelson, try as he might, failed to make an impression this week. Jason Day was three-under at one stage, but he tumbled out on the wrong edge of the knife at 2-over.

As did Rory, after a remarkable 65 on Friday. The Northern Irishman was inches from making the weekend, but a 79 on Thursday left him chasing the ball all day long. Gary Woodland, suffering winner’s fatigue, also missed the weekend on the heels of a memorable US Open victory.

Tommy Fleetwood has been on the fringes of major glory many times now. He added another chapter to his quest for a major title, shooting 67 on Friday. Fleetwood is at 7-under, just one back and in position for a weekend master class. All he needs now is to deliver his best game.

Lee Westwood is turning the clock back. The 46-year-old has been one of the most prolific golfers on the European Tour, but he is still looking for his first piece of major silver. He matched Fleetwood during the first two rounds, scoring 68 and 67 to put himself in the conversation.

Another shot back is Cameron Smith and Justin Harding, who have both been making a massive impression over the last two years. They went big on Friday, adding 66 and 65 respectively, to their first-round scores of 70 and 71.

Justin Rose has been in the reckoning at every turn and he wasn’t going to slip away closer to home. The Englishman found a 67 yesterday to put himself at T3 with Smith and Harding.

At 5-under we have Brooks Koepka, unfailingly at the top end of major leaderboards over the past two years. Koepka made 68 & 69, playing alongside Indian Shubhankar Sharma. Keeping the American company are Jordan Spieth, Andrew Putnam and the John Deere winner last week, Dylan Frittelli.

Erik Van Rooyen, Tony Finau, Lucas Bjerregaard, Patrick Reed, Jon Rahm and Matt Kuchar are all at four under and very much in the mix.

It will be interesting to see if one of these gladiators break free on Saturday when the winds are expected to pick up on a bright day in Portrush.