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British Open: Darren Clarke, Lucas Glover share lead after two rounds

McIlroy’s 1-under 69 keeps him in hunt for another major title

- Associated Press - Friday, July 15, 2011

SANDWICH, England — On a sunny day when the old-timers shined, the kid made sure he was right in the thick of things at the British Open.

Another major title is still in Rory McIlroy's grasp, though he isn't going to run away with this one.

The 22-year-old from Northern Ireland tenaciously carved out a 1-under 69 Friday that left him four strokes off the lead at Royal St. George's, where just seven strokes will be separating the field heading into what figures to be a wild — and possibly stormy — weekend.

Darren Clarke and Lucas Glover are at the top of a leaderboard filled with experience, from 40-somethings Thomas Bjorn, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Davis Love III to 52-year-old Tom Lehman.

But there's something for everyone (except maybe the home country). Phil Mickelson, check. Sergio Garcia, check. Major champions Martin Kaymer and Charl Schwartzel, check and check.

And McIlroy, lurking in the rearview mirror, looking to the add the claret jug to his U.S. Open title.

"It was a grind," he said. "It would be nicer to be a couple better, but I'll take that going into the weekend. I'm very happy with my position."

So are a lot of guys, including another Ulsterman.

Clarke shot his second straight 68 to show his younger countrymen a thing or two. Once the face of golf in his country, the 42-year-old became an afterthought when first Graeme McDowell, then McIlroy claimed major titles.

Maybe it's time for the old guy to get his, too.

"It would mean an awful lot," Clarke said. "But obviously, this is only after two rounds. There's an awful long way to go yet."

Clarke rolled in a 90-footer for eagle at the seventh and closed his round with a birdie at the tough 18th, sending him to the clubhouse tied for the top spot with Lucas Glover at 4 under 136.

Glover, the 2009 U.S. Open champion, followed an opening 66 with a solid 70 along the English seaside.

"I didn't hole as many putts as I did yesterday," the bearded Glover said. "But I'm happy to grind out even par."

The U.S. has gone five straight majors without a title — its longest drought of the modern Grand Slam era. Glover shrugged off the slump; besides, he could be in line to snap another streak.

"They told me no one has won the Open championship with a beard since the 1890s," he said.

Also in contention from the other side of the Atlantic: Chad Campbell, who shot 68 and was one shot back at 3-under 137; Dustin Johnson (68) and old-timers Love (68) and Lehman (67), all at 138; and, yes, even Mickelson, who came to England trying to forget his Open record.

Lefty has only one top-10 finish in 17 previous appearances. Despite missing several short putts over the first two days, a 69 made him a factor at 139.

"It's fun to be in contention heading to the weekend of the British Open," he said.

McIlroy won't be romping to an eight-stroke victory like he did at Congressional, but he wasn't complaining about the way he played in the afternoon, when the wind picked up and the tricky pin positions made things treacherous.

He saved his best for last, pulling out a par after plugging his approach in a pot bunker in front of the green. McIlroy somehow knocked it on the green and sank a 12-foot putt, pumping his fist as he reached the midway point of the tournament at an even 140.

Garcia, showing again how his game is rounding into shape, matched McIlroy with his second 70 in a row. Both endured the wrong end of the draw, playing in tougher conditions during the morning Thursday and the afternoon Friday.

"Obviously I would have loved to have finished at 2 under," said Garcia, who bogeyed two of the last four holes. "But under the conditions that we played in, if you had given me even par I would have been happy."

All four current major champions were headed to the weekend, but not the top-ranked player in the world. England's Luke Donald closed with four straight bogeys for a 75 to miss the cut of 3-over 143. Lee Westwood, No. 2 in the world, shot 73 and missed the cut by one stroke. Ian Poulter headed home after a 78.

Their dismal finish epitomized the woes for the English, who had hoped to make a big splash at the club that has hosted more Opens outside Scotland than any other.

PGA champion Martin Kaymer (67) was at 137, with Masters winner Charl Schwartzel (68) another stroke back. Defending British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen (70) also was safely above the cut line at 142.

The forecast was much worse for the final two rounds, with both wind and rain expected.

Bring it on, said Mickelson.

"One of the things I'm looking forward to is actually the bad weather," he said. "I hope it comes in."

Bjorn, playing in the same group as Dyson, was in danger of falling completely out of the mix when he bogeyed three straight holes at the start of his round. But the 40-year-old Dane pulled himself together, playing 1 under the rest of the way for a 72 that left him one stroke off the lead heading to the weekend.

"It wasn't the prettiest of days golfwise, but I'll take where I stand in the championship," Bjorn said.

So will Jimenez, even with Bjorn at 137 after shooting 71.

"I'm one shot behind," the Spaniard said. "I put my breath on the back on the players, and they're going to feel myself coming from behind. Be careful."

The opening round produced a pair of unlikely leaders. Bjorn had missed the cut in four of five events before he got to Royal St. George's, his game in disarray, his heart heavy after the death of his father, and lugging around plenty of baggage at this place.

Eight years ago, Bjorn squandered a two-stroke lead in the final three holes, allowing Ben Curtis to sneak away with one of golf's most improbable wins.

Getting into the tournament on Monday as an alternate when Vijay Singh dropped out, Bjorn played only one practice round, then went out and shot a 65.

So did 20-year-old Tom Lewis, who became the first amateur to lead the Open since 1968, the first to pace any major since Mike Reid at the 1976 U.S. Open.

But Reid seemed more his age in the second round, bogeying the final two holes for a 74 that dropped him three strokes off the pace. At No. 18, Lewis knocked his approach over the green, striking a fence post in front of the grandstands and forcing him to play a chip off a gravel road.

Still, he's made it through to the weekend — his primary goal.

"If you asked me that two days ago, I would have taken it," Lewis said. "But at this moment, it doesn't feel so good."

At least he had a good view for the shot of the day.

Playing partner Tom Watson, the five-time Open champion Lewis is named after, sent a charge through the place with a hole-in-one at the sixth.

Pulling out a 4-iron, Watson sent the ball soaring to the green, then it bounced once before dropping into the cup. The 61-year-old threw both arms in the air, high-fived Henrik Stenson, shook hands with Lewis, then took a bow toward the grandstand.

"Wish I could have seen it go in," Watson said as he walked toward the hole to retrieve the second hole-in-one at this Open. Johnson had an ace in the opening round.

Watson missed some short putts, though, and finished with a 70 for a 142, good enough to send him through to the weekend.

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