Tommy Fleetwood moved into position to succeed Ryder Cup partner Francesco Molinari as Open champion as Tiger Woods headed for an early exit at Royal Portrush.
Fleetwood outscored Woods by 10 shots in the first round and took advantage of ideal conditions for the early starters on Friday to card a superb 67 and trail clubhouse leader JB Holmes by a shot.
Playing in his 25th consecutive Open, Lee Westwood was alongside Fleetwood on seven under par after matching his compatriot’s 67, with Justin Rose a shot further back alongside Australia’s Cameron Smith and South African Justin Harding.
World number one Brooks Koepka, who is seeking a fifth major victory in his last 10 starts, was ominously poised on five under following a 69, with South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen on four under and England’s Tyrrell Hatton a stroke further back after an eventful 71.
Out on the course, Ireland’s Shane Lowry had surged to the top of the leaderboard on 10 under with six birdies in the first 10 holes as the weather worsened, steady rain falling as Woods rebounded from an opening 78 with a 70.
On six over par Woods was five shots outside the projected cut, although that seemed certain to rise as the later starters, including home favourite Rory McIlroy, battled the conditions.
McIlroy had pulled his opening tee shot out of bounds on Thursday on his way to a quadruple-bogey eight but had at least not lost his sense of humour, the 30-year-old smiling broadly after being given a loud cheer for finding the fairway this time around.
Fleetwood was expected to contend for one of the game’s biggest prizes this year after his consistent displays in 2018, the Ryder Cup star finishing 17th in the Masters, second in the US Open – after a record-equalling 63 in the final round – 12th in the Open and 35th in the US PGA.
However, so far this season his best result is a tie for 36th at Augusta National and the 28-year-old also failed to convert good chances to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational and Players Championship earlier in the year.
A bogey on the first was quickly cancelled out by a birdie on the par-five second and Fleetwood also picked up shots on the fifth, 12th, 13th and 15th before bouncing back from a bogey on the 16th to birdie the last.
“Yesterday I felt like it was a lot more stress-free, today I made two or three really good par saves but I am happy with the challenge,” said Fleetwood, who partnered Molinari to four wins out of four in the Ryder Cup last year.
“It’s not going to be all-singing and dancing in majors and I was up to the test. Overall it’s two really good rounds of golf to start.”