CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – His telegenic looks already command attention, but Tommy Fleetwood, whose bearded visage and flowing locks invite comparisons to musicians and artists, continues to exhibit a scoring gear in majors that makes him difficult to ignore.
If he keeps it up, he might be difficult to beat.
A bogey-free 6-under 65 Friday at Carnoustie Golf Links didn’t earn Fleetwood the halfway lead in the 147th Open Championship, but it did further cement his stature as one of the more lethal scorers in the game. And it did put him in prime position to become the first Englishman since Nick Faldo in 1992 to win golf’s oldest major championship.
“I can't lie about it. If I could pick one tournament in my life to win, it would be the Open,” Fleetwood said with a whimsical grin after completing 36 holes in 5-under 137. “I've never been anywhere near before. So far, for two rounds, I'm up there on the leader board.”
Right. Two rounds in the books. So much water yet to spill over the dam, or Barry Burn, what have you. So many insatiable dangers lurking around this brutish golf behemoth. So many what-ifs to be answered. In this game, the not knowing is the known entity.
Fleetwood is becoming a known entity, too.
Winner of last year’s season-long Race to Dubai on the European Tour, Fleetwood nearly swindled the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills last month with a final-round 63, which tied that championship’s scoring record but left him one behind eventual winner Brooks Koepka. Nevertheless, he registered his second top-five finish in as many U.S. Open starts.
In April, his third-round 66 at the Masters was the second-lowest score of the day and propelled him to a share of 17th place. Granted, this is still a new phenomenon for the four-time European Tour winner, who is appearing in only his 13th major championship and missed the cut in six of his first seven major starts. But the former Scottish and English Amateur champion appears to be growing more comfortable by the round with the spotlight dances.
At No. 10 in the World Ranking, Fleetwood continues to remind everyone that he’s more dangerous than a snap-hook. Although on this side of the Atlantic, a nudge isn’t necessary. The Southport, England, native arrived a while ago among the patronage.
“It’s nice. You put all the work in, and I've played very well, and I've had some performances that I'm very proud of,” Fleetwood said of the attention he receives. “Yet at the moment, I've put myself high in the world rankings, and I've had the U.S. Open just recently, I've had a great result. With that comes expectation, and with that comes you have to learn to manage it and handle it.
“You always have expectation on yourself," he added. "That's just a given really. But, yeah, it's something that you get used to and something that you have to learn about, but at the same time, it's much nicer than having no eyes on you at all.”
That hardly seems like an issue for a guy who looks like he could have been a member of The Who back in the day. Or choose any grunge rock act you please. Point being, this dude stands out. His ability to score only accentuates that circumstance.
That ability carried him during the opening round when he carded a 1-over 72 while firing virtual blanks. Having missed the cut in his last start at the HNA Open France, Fleetwood arrived at Carnoustie searching for his swing. He still didn’t have it Thursday, missing right of his targets regularly, but somehow escaped significant damage.
An hour range session with his instructor Alan Thompson brought better results if not fully blossoming confidence.
“I was hitting it a lot better, but I still never felt fully comfortable out there,” he admitted. “Normally when you play great, you know where the ball's gone. A lot of the shots, I was just looking up, and I was really happy that they were going straight. I didn't feel fully confident and fully comfortable in my swing. So, there's still a bit of work to do there. But the ball was doing what I wanted it to do.”
Well, yeah. Mostly it was going in. Six birdies in all, including a dagger 18-footer at the arduous home hole to put a bow on the day. Carded amid a chilly shower, the round wasn't as fulfilling as his 63 at Shinnecock. Still, he’ll take it. Of course, he will.
Friday’s 65 was more than just a fine round. It was another to deposit in a growing memory bank of highlights.
“The round itself [at Shinnecock] was just something that was very special and very close to being a one and only round on its own,” Fleetwood said. “To be a part of history was really cool. And rounds like today, they just show you, when you play well, you're on – I mean, you are on – I don't really think you can get a much tougher test than Shinnecock or Carnoustie really, but you're on the toughest test in golf. If you can get it going, you can end up shooting a really low score. So, to have the ability to do that is something, well, it's great really.”
What’s also great is that it’s rare.