|The 148th Open Championship – second-round leaderboard|
|-8 JB Holmes (US), S Lowry (Ire); -7 L Westwood (Eng), T Fleetwood (Eng); -6 C Smith (Aus), J Harding (SA), J Rose (Eng); -5 B Koepka (US), J Spieth (US), A Puttnam (US), D Frittelli (SA)|
|Selected others: -4 J Rahm (Spa); -3 T Hatton (Eng), D Johnson (US), R Fowler (US); -2 E Els J Day (SA); -1 D Willett (Eng); E F Molinari (Ita); +2 R McIlroy (NI) +6 T Woods (US); +7 I Poulter (Eng); +8 P Mickelson (US)|
Rory McIlroy agonisingly missed the cut at his home Open as Ireland’s Shane Lowry produced a four-under-par 67 to take a share of the lead.
McIlroy’s 79 on Thursday left him eight shots shy of the cut at one over, and he almost achieved his feat but failed to pick up a birdie at the last.
Lowry, 32, is on eight under alongside USA’s JB Holmes, with England’s Tommy Fleetwood and Lee Westwood a shot back.
Another Englishman, Justin Rose, is on six under after a 67 at Royal Portrush.
World number one Brooks Koepka and 2017 Open champion Jordan Spieth are a shot further back on five under, but former winners Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Darren Clarke all missed the cut.
It is the first time both Woods and Mickelson have gone out of the same major after the first two rounds.
‘I dug in and showed good resilience’
The crowd following McIlroy around the County Antrim course began to grow in size as he sank birdie after birdie on the inward nine.
By the 18th the cheer that greeted the 2014 champion was as if he was going for his second title rather than a mission to make the cut.
However, his hopes faded with his approach to the green as the wind took the ball down the bank. The following chip landed wide and ended the 30-year-old’s hopes of winning a major on home soil.
“Part of me is very disappointed not to be here for the weekend. I’m emotional but happy with how I played,” said McIlroy.
“The support I got out there was incredible and you could see on the back nine, I went with it today and that’s what I was planning to do all week.
“Yesterday gave me a mountain to climb but I dug in and showed good resilience.
“It’s going to hurt for a bit. I’ve been looking forward to this week for a long time.
“I didn’t play my part but everyone in Northern Ireland came out to watch me and played theirs.”
‘My goodness, have we got a long way to go’
It has been quite an eventful 12 months for Lowry who has risen to from world number 90 to 33 following victory in Abu Dhabi in January and an eighth place at the US PGA.
His best performance at a major to date was tied second at the 2016 US Open. However, he is now targeting his first major.
“I’m obviously going to be thinking about it tonight,” he said when asked about the prospect of winning the Claret Jug.
“There’s no point in shying away from it. I’m in a great position but, my goodness, have we got a long way to go.
“As a golfer you have such a long career. I’ve been 10 years now and it’s just a rollercoaster. I think the reason I’m so good mentally now is I know – I think – how to take the downs.”
Clarke, who got the 148th Open under way, will also miss the weekend after he finished on three over. However, Graeme McDowell, born a short distance from the course, managed to sneak through on one over as did last year’s champion Francesco Molinari, who carded a 69.
Woods & Mickelson out but Koepka & Spieth in contention
Unlike McIlroy, three-time winner and current Masters champion Woods never looked like making the cut, and finished on six over.
It is only the third time in 21 attempts the 15-time major winner has not made the weekend at The Open, and only the 10th time in majors he has missed the cut. Seven of those have come in the past 13 tournaments.
Fellow American and 2013 champion Mickelson ended his campaign with a 74 for eight over.
Former champions Paul Lawrie and Padraig Harrington also missed the cut, as did European Ryder Cup hero Ian Poulter. Another former winner, David Duval, ended his sorry campaign on 27 over after he followed Thursday’s 91 with a 78.
The biggest challenge to a European win might come from world number one Koepka and Spieth, who are both on five under.
American Koepka, seeking his fifth major in two years, followed Thursday’s 68 with a 69, and compatriot Spieth produced an eagle on the par-five seventh on his way to a 67.
Australia’s Cameron Smith and Justin Harding are among those in contention, on six under.
English trio in the hunt
Lowry, along with Westwood, Fleetwood and Rose are Europe’s best hopes of stopping a possible American clean-sweep of this year’s majors.
Fleetwood, last year’s US Open runner-up, has gradually improved his final placing at his home major over the past few years.
He missed the cut in his first three attempts before a tied 27th in 2017 and tied 12th in 2018.
On Friday, the 28-year-old continued his impressive start to this year’s campaign with six birdies en route to a 67.
“I felt like I was a lot more stress-free,” said Fleetwood, whose last win was in Abu Dhabi in January 2018.
“I made two or three good par-saves, but I enjoy the challenge.”
Westwood, 46, has also yet to win major although he has finished among the top-three places on six occasions, including a second-placed finish at The Open in 2010.
This year the Worksop player has been aided in his mission by girlfriend Helen Storey, who been working as his caddie at a major tournament for the first time.
“She’s delighted to be caddying at a major because she doesn’t have to rake the bunkers and get sand on her trainers,” said Westwood, who sunk four birdies in an unblemished round of 67.
“Obviously I get on well with Helen. She doesn’t know too much about golf but she knows a lot about the way my mind works, so she keeps me in a good frame of mind, and keeps me focused on the right things at the right times.”
Last year, Rose finished tied second but only after just making the cut. The 2013 US Open has given himself a better platform from which to challenge for his second major.
“That weekend would be worth everything if you could put it all together when it counts,” said Rose, who also recorded a 67.
“Obviously last year it almost counted. It was great. But it was important for me to have that weekend because it made me believe I could win this tournament.
“I’m comfortable with how much I expect of myself and that makes it easier tomorrow and the next day.”
McIlroy deserves credit for great effort – analysis
2018 European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on BBC Two:
“We have to give Rory McIlroy credit for what he did in equalling the best round of the day. He made a great effort but all the damage was done on Thursday. The crowd expect so much of him and at least he delivered in his second round.
“We all want to see the greatest players here at the weekend but there’s a new breed of player coming through and you have to play your best at majors. It’s disappointing McIlroy and Woods are not here but there’s a great leaderboard and so many great players. Just because you have played well in the past doesn’t give you the right to be here.
“Shane Lowry’s first 10 holes were amazing but the excitement got a little bit to him in the end and he needs to try to relax and lay out a plan. He then has to stick to it because the last few holes here are very difficult.
“Lee Westwood is running out of chances to win the Open and would be a very popular winner. He’s one of the best players in the world not to have won a major. He has all the qualities – he’s so good tee to green but sometimes his putting lets him down. He’s putting well this week and there’s no reason why he can’t be standing there with the trophy on Sunday if he can keep that form going.”