SANDWICH, England — Darren Clarke and Lucas Glover took advantage of a calm morning and watched the rest of the field bunch up behind them as the wind freshened in what's shaping up as the most wide-open Open in years.
Clarke fired a 68 and Glover carded an even-par 70 to match him at four under par after 36 holes of the 140th British Open at Royal St. George's on Friday.
"It would mean an awful lot [to win]," said the 42-year-old Clarke, who tied for second and tied for third at the 1997 and 2001 Opens, respectively. "But obviously this is only after two rounds. There's an awful long way to go yet, and I believe the forecast for this weekend is very, very poor, which I quite look forward to."
All 71 players who made the cut (3 over) are within seven strokes of the lead, leaving all sorts of tantalizing outcomes on the table for the weekend.
Although an American hasn't won a major since Phil Mickelson at the 2010 Masters, the Yanks put together a mini resurgence Friday, making up eight of the 18 players under par through 36 holes. Glover led the charge. The laconic Clemson graduate with the lag in his swing has been mostly dormant since winning the 2009 U.S. Open. Prior to winning the Wells Fargo Championship in May, the only buzz he created was for growing an epic beard.
"They said nobody has won the Open Championship with a beard since the 1890s," said Glover, who closed with eight-straight pars and hasn't finished higher than T27 (2007) in five previous Open starts.
Chad Campbell (68), Martin Kaymer (69), Miguel Angel-Jimenez (71) and first-round co-leader Thomas Bjorn (72) were a shot off the lead at three under.
Masters champion Charl Schwartzel and 52-year-old Tom Lehman tied for the low round of the day (67) to head up a large group at two under par, two behind. Davis Love III and Dustin Johnson each shot 68 and also were at two under.
Phil Mickelson shot 69 and was at one under. For the second-straight day, he birdied only the par-5 seventh and 14th holes, but he held steady the rest of the way.
"It's fun to be in contention heading into the weekend of the British," said Mickelson, whose only top-10 in 17 previous Open starts came at Troon in 2004 (third). "One of the things I'm looking forward to is actually the bad weather."
Rory McIlroy, still not at his best, shot 69 to go into the weekend at even par and just four off the lead. Sergio Garcia (70) was also even.
In the week's biggest surprise so far, world No. 1 Luke Donald went four over on his last four holes to shoot 75 (6-over) and miss the cut by three. Donald was in good company. Second-ranked Lee Westwood (73, 4-over for the tournament) and Graeme McDowell (77, 5-over) also missed the cut.
"Getting to be a bit of a habit, these types of days," McDowell said.
English amateur Tom Lewis, who turned into Thursday's big story with a 5-under 65 in the first round, came back to earth with a 74 and was at one under. Not bad for a 20-year-old at his first Open.
His playing partner and the legend he was named after, Tom Watson, made an ace on the sixth hole and came in at 70. He was at two over for the tournament. Watson's hole-in-one came a day after Dustin Johnson's ace on 16. That makes two aces in two days at St. George's, after no one had any at the 2010, 2008 and 2007 Opens.
"If my putting was a little bit better, I'd give myself at least an outside chance," said Watson, whose hole-in-one was the 15th of his career.
A victory by Clarke, who double-bogeyed the par-4 fourth and eagled the par-5 seventh, would extend a green-hot streak of Irish golfing success. Padraig Harrington won three majors, including back-to-back British Opens, in 2007 and '08, and McDowell and McIlroy won the 2010 and '11 U.S. Opens. "There were a lot of people telling me it's been great that those two boys can do it, it's your turn now, blah, blah, blah," Clarke said. "But it was such a big deal to have Rory winning on the back of G-Mac, as well."
Asked how he's fared at the Open when it's come to Royal St. George's, Clarke admitted he had no idea. (He made the cut in 2003 and 1993 but finished well back of winners Ben Curtis and Greg Norman.) He's been around long enough to have racked up impressive victories, like his takedown of Tiger Woods at the 2000 WGC-Accenture Match Play, but too long to get bogged down in trivia. One exception: Clarke knows the last time the Open came to Northern Ireland's Royal Portrush was 1951, and he knows Max Faulkner won . Clarke would dearly love to see the tournament return to his homeland.
That would be a nice epitaph for a player who's seen a lot, mentoring McIlroy and offering the odd bit of advice to McDowell. Clarke lost his wife, Heather, to breast cancer in 2006, and played with a heavy heart at the Ryder Cup at the K Club later that year, earning three points to lead an emotional European rout.
"I wouldn't say it's a breeze," Clarke said of playing St. George's, "but nothing would be more difficult than it was at the K Club."
His task after the K Club was piecing his life back together. He won twice in 2008, and recently moved from outside London back to Portrush to get his sons, Tyrone and Conor, better schooling. He's also closer to his fiancÃ©. McDowell set up Clarke with former Miss Northern Ireland Alison Campbell, who owns a Belfast modeling agency, and they are engaged, without a date.
"She's a great girl and has been very instrumental in getting my life back on track again," said Clarke, who won the Iberdrola Open in May for his 13th title on the European tour but only his third since 2003.
Bob Rotella also has been instrumental. He and Clarke worked together when Clarke was a fixture on the PGA Tour, but don't see each other as much with Clarke in Europe. They dissect the mental side of putting, and Clarke was not optimistic about this week until an edifying session with Rotella on Wednesday. After that, he was so chipper he was laughing with the fans even as he stood on the first tee Thursday. "There was somebody whistling at me when I was bending over stretching," Clarke said. "I said, 'I hope that was a lady.'. He whistled again [Friday], same guy. I'm doing something all wrong."
Or right. Clarke hit just 10 of 28 fairways over the first 36 holes, but he took only 28 and 26 putts Thursday and Friday, respectively. With the weather expected to worsen, it may take a player who can string together a series of par-saving one-putts to outlast the elements and the competition. It may take a player who is used to playing in soup, whose heft anchors him in a stiff wind. Clarke says his agent has always told him, "I play better fat." For a man who's seen so much, and who admits he's done just about all there is to do in the game, nothing would be fatter than an Open victory.