After Zach Johnson went out and posted a four-under 67 to grab the early clubhouse lead at six-under 136 on Friday at Carnoustie, seemingly every player that got near him looked as though they'd take control. This included first-round leader Kevin Kisner, who arrived at the 18th tee three under on his round, eight under for the tournament. A double bogey on the historically treacherous par 4 saw him finish with a one-under 70, tying him with Johnson at six under.
But Kisner was not alone in his late-round struggles, as the likes of Tony Finau, Jordan Spieth, Pat Perez and Rickie Fowler all stumbled down Carnoustie's difficult final four-hole stretch. The same cannot be said for Xander Schauffele, who toured the back nine in four-under 31, including a birdie-par finish at 17 and 18 to card a five-under 66 to pair with his first-round, even-par 71. The remarkable late-round surge puts him one off the lead at five-under 137 and firmly in contention heading into the weekend.
Afterwards, he attempted to downplay it, but no matter the conditions, the two-time tour winner should be very pleased.
"Well, it's not raining," he said, comparing his wave's weather to the morning wave's inclement weather. "It's somewhat sunny, so it was a little bit easier than this morning. But, (the 18th hole) it's scary, bunkers on the right are no good, and you have to get lucky going left. So, it's really a fun hole."
That fun hole ended with one of Schauffele's 24 total putts on Friday, an amount matched by Kelly Kraft and Shaun Norris in their second rounds, but also an amount only surpassed by Kisner's 22 putts on Thursday. Schauffele, 24, continues to build on an impressive 2017 campaign that saw him win twice and finish T-5 in the U.S. Open at Erin Hills. While he hasn't quite backed it up this season, he did manage to finish T-6 at Shinnecock, and is looking for another strong week in a major to add to his resume.
"We always thought I had enough game to do some things, and I just was never doing it," he said. "Winning a couple times definitely helps boost the confidence."
Schauffele's round has him in a tie for third with Pat Perez and Tommy Fleetwood, whose early-morning six-under 65 is the round of the tournament so far. Perez, 42, posted a three-under 68, putting him in great position to have one of his best weeks in a major. In 24 career major starts, the three-time tour winner has just one top 10. He knows no one will be picking him to break through this weekend, and, in vintage Perez fashion, he doesn't care.
"The best part for me is no one thinks that I can win. For me, that makes it easier to play," he said. "I don't have any pressure. I'm not Rory and Tiger and these guys that have won so many times, and they have the pressure of winning more of them. I would like to -- I'd like to do well. If I win, that would be -- you know, that would be amazing. But I'd like to do well. I'd like to stay steady for 36 more holes and play well, make some putts, and if I happen to be there somewhat near the end, that would be incredible.
"I'm 42 years old. After having surgery two years ago, if you said, 'hey, you could be one off the lead at 42 in the Open.' You can ask Tiger. He's done the same thing. He's had all these surgeries. He's back. He's happy to be playing again. In so many ways, that's the way I am, too. It's hard to believe at 42 I'll be on top of my game."
Among a group at four-under are Rory McIlroy and Matt Kuchar, as is the other Zander, South Africa's Zander Lombard, a 23-year-old who has missed 14 of his last 18 cuts worldwide.
Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth each made a move, the latter shooting a four-under 67 and the former a two-under 69. They are tied with Kevin Chappell at three-under 139.
Tiger Woods (71) and Phil Mickelson (69) are two of the 11 players tied at even-par 142.