The Open: Fitzpatrick slips off pace as Willett clings on

England's Matthew Fitzpatrick tees off the 2nd during day two of The Open Championship 2017 at Royal Birkdale
England's Matthew Fitzpatrick tees off the 2nd during day two of The Open Championship 2017 at Royal Birkdale
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A horror three hole run saw Matt Fitzpatrick’s challenge at The Open wane on another difficult day at Royal Birkdale.

The Sheffield golfer started his second round four shots off the lead but failed to make significant headway on a day where below par rounds were at a premium.

The main factor in Fitzpatrick’s slip off the pace can be put down to a three hole stretch from six to eight. Bogeys on six and eight sandwiched a double bogey five on the par three seventh which moved him onto two over par for the tournament.

He exchanged bogeys for birdies on the back nine to card a 73 and slip to +2, eight shots off the overnight lead held by Jordan Speith and in a tie for 25th.

Fellow Sheffielder Danny Willett sneaked through the cut after a four over par round of 74 left him on +5.

One disastrous hole severely damaged Willett’s fortunes and means he is unlikely to be in contention for a high placed finish.

He carded a triple bogey eight on the 17th, though a birdie on the last eased the woe slightly.

Making the cut is somewhat of an achievement for the 29-year-old given his recent troubles with injury and form. It will be only the second time in six tournaments that the former Masters champion has reached Saturday play.

Arguably the most pleased of the trio of Sheffield golfers at Birkdale will be qualifier Joe Dean.

The Killamarsh ace starts Saturday’s play level with Fitzpatrick on +2 after a superbly steady level par round which few rivals could replicate.

Torrential downpours which left standing water on several greens caused play to be temporarily suspended at 5:30pm.

Speith was one of the late finishers after the break in play and managed to open up a two shot lead atop the leaderboard.

Former champion Rory McIlroy hailed one of his best rounds ever in the Open after remaining in contention for a fifth major title.

McIlroy was five over par after six holes of his opening round and seemed destined for a fourth missed cut in five events until a stern talking to from caddie JP Fitzgerald prompted a back-nine rally.

The world number four came home in 32 with three birdies in the last four holes and maintained that momentum on Friday, despite far tougher conditions for the morning starters.

Birdies on the first, third and sixth helped McIlroy reach the turn in 31, eight shots fewer than on Thursday, and although he dropped shots on the 13th and 15th, a birdie on the 17th helped the 28-year-old complete a superb 68.

“That’s right up there,” said McIlroy, who equalled the lowest score in major history with an opening 63 at St Andrews in 2010 and opened with consecutive 66s on his way to victory at Hoylake in 2014.

“It’s really tough out there. I was lucky enough to get off to that great start but conditions got a little worse on the back nine. This south-east wind is the toughest on this course and I made a couple of bogeys, but really pleased to birdie 17.”

At one under par, McIlroy was just three shots off the clubhouse target set by American Matt Kuchar, who could only add a 71 to his opening 65, with Scotland’s Richie Ramsay on two under par after an excellent 70.

“I thought if I could keep it under par for the championship I am right there for the weekend,” McIlroy added.

“ I went out and believed in myself from the first tee shot, hit it within 60 yards of the green and went from there. I saw a lot of quality out there which was good.

“I just wanted to continue with that good feeling from the last few holes (on Thursday) and went out with that positivity and trust in myself and just need to keep that for the next two days. I cant wait.”

Playing alongside Kuchar, Ramsay - who qualified by finishing second in the Irish Open which benefits McIlroy’s foundation - carded 16 pars, one birdie and one bogey to add a 70 to his opening 68.

“It was some of the best golf I have played this year and I am just loving being out there,” the 34-year-old from Aberdeen said. “It’s easy to say when you are playing good golf, but with Rickie Fowler in the group in front of us and Matt doing well the atmosphere was brilliant.”

Speaking about his elevated position on the leaderboard, Ramsay added: “ It’s pretty cool isn’t it? You grow up and practice having a putt to win the Open.

“I’m in a position to compete for it which is something I have needed to do to tick a box, to compete with the best players in the world. Whether I do that the next two days I don’t know, but I have to give 100 per cent and try to be the best I can be and take it from there.”

Only four sub-par rounds were recorded by the first 60 players, with 2015 champion Zach Johnson carding a brilliant 66 to move 94 places up the leaderboard and reach one over par.

Fellow American Jamie Lovemark was level par after a 69, with Sergio Garcia on two over after returning the same score, despite injuring his shoulder after lashing out at a gorse bush on the fourth.