British Open: Tommy Fleetwood is here with a First Major Title
Last month, on the 18th hole in the final round of the United States Open, Tommy Fleetwood had a 9-foot putt to become the first golfer to shoot 62 in the 118-year history of the event. His putt just slipped past the right side of the hole.
Fleetwood, a 27-year-old Englishman who finished second in the tournament, removed his cap, motioned toward a teeming crowd and ran a hand through his curly, shoulder-length hair.
From the massive grandstand enveloping the green, a lone, loud voice shouted: “It’s O.K., Tommy. Your hair’s still beautiful.”
On Friday morning, in the second round of the British Open, Fleetwood had another moment in the spotlight on an 18th green. At the Carnoustie Golf Links, large galleries had again flocked to watch the popular, bearded, easy-smiling Fleetwood.
When he rolled in a 12-foot birdie putt, he had not only shot six-under-par 65 — the lowest score of the day — but also was, for the third time this year, in contention for his first major golf championship.
He again doffed his cap to the crowd, but several hours of steady, windblown rain seemed to have dampened the fervor that prompts individual outbursts. Fleetwood, however, was still a fan favorite. He was heartily cheered off the green until he disappeared from view.
“It’s nice,” Fleetwood said of the attention he is receiving this season. “Much nicer than having no eyes on you at all.”
That’s not likely to be Fleetwood’s problem this weekend.
His second-round result moved him to five under par for the championship, one stroke behind the second-round leaders, Zach Johnson and Kevin Kisner.
On a crowded leader board, Fleetwood was tied with Pat Perez and Xander Schauffele. Rory McIlroy, among others, was one stroke behind them. Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler were only three strokes off the lead.
And Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, both at even par, were not out of the mix, either.
But it was the personable Fleetwood who seemed to put the biggest charge into the fans, both because he has been surging in the last two seasons and because he is currently the golfer best positioned to become the first Englishman to win the British Open since Nick Faldo did it in 1992.
That distinction would fulfill the expectations placed on a young(er) Fleetwood, who grew up in Southport, north of Liverpool, and developed into a decorated amateur ranked third worldwide.
Like many golfers when they turn pro, Fleetwood initially made progress in fits and starts. A particularly low point was in the second round of the British Open three years ago when, after a promising opening-round 69, he shot 76 and missed the cut for a second consecutive year.
“It’s something that I’ve always got to look back on, something that I hope I never do again,” Fleetwood said Friday when reminded of his 2015 result. “But I have come a long way as a golfer and as a person. I’d best probably think about tomorrow rather than three years ago, but it has been a great transformation in fortunes.”
In addition to his electrifying, record-tying final round 63 at Shinnecock Hills in June, Fleetwood shot 66 in the third round of this year’s Masters to vault into a tie for sixth place entering that championship’s final day, when he faltered and finished in a tie for 17th.
Friday, in difficult conditions that included cold temperatures and driving rain, he had six birdies and no bogeys and needed only 26 putts.
Fleetwood, who set the Carnoustie competition course record in 2014 when he shot 62 in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, was also asked about the long British Open drought without an English champion.
“I can’t lie about it — if I could pick one tournament in my life to win, it would be the Open,” Fleetwood said. “I’ve never been anywhere near that before. So far, for two rounds, I’m up there on the leader board. But, yeah, it would be something to have in my career that would be amazing.
“But, you know, we have to play four days, not two. Today was a very strong round of golf. Now I’ve got to just keep doing it.”
Some notable golfers will not be around for the weekend. The group missing the 36-hole cut included the world’s top-ranked golfer, Dustin Johnson, who finished his two days at Carnoustie at six over par. Bubba Watson, ranked 13th in the world, was also six over par. Jon Rahm shot a capable 69 in the first round, then ballooned to a 78 Friday and missed the cut. So did Ian Poulter (12 over), Jimmy Walker (eight over) and Brandt Snedeker (12 over).