WHAT DOES THE SECOND ROUND LEAD MEAN?
How important is the second round lead at the Open Championship? It may depend on whether you consider this the “Open” or “the Open at Muirfield.”
A look back at both recent Opens and those at Muirfield can be instructive. Although Tiger Woods is the player to beat, the presence of the other ball strikers at the top of the leaderboard open the door for three other players.
This is how the second round leader has performed after the second round at the Open in the past 10 years.
However, as we noted in our preview, the recent unpredictability of the Open in recent times caused us to look to the course: Muirfield.
Here are the last 6 winners of the Open at Muirfield and their position in the field after each round:
Muirfield has shown to be a course for front-runners.
In contrast, six of the ten winners of the Open since Els last won in 2002 have come from further back after the second round.
So let’s take a look at the current leaderboard after the second round.
So what do we make of this?
If anything, the look and feel of the play today is more similar to the U.S. Open than the typical Open. The greens have been fast, the greens have not been holding and the players are looking defensive. Also, the players are bunched up together at the top of the leaderboard. As we noted after the second round of the U.S. Open at Merion this year, the densely packed leaderboard combined with defensive golf means Saturday is less "moving day" and more "milling-about day." In other words, it is important to just hang on Saturday and roll the dice Sunday.
Even so, the golf course is still Muirfield: ball striking and pedigree have been critical components of champions on this track. Interestingly, the current leader that feels the least likely to win. It is difficult to imagine Jiminez's game holding up on this course over the weekend.
More interestingly, all four of the players in second place arguably meet the criteria. Woods meets the criteria for obvious reasons but this is not a coronation. Henrik Stenson, Dustin Johnson and Lee Westwood may not have the victories but are all solid strikers of the ball (very solid) and have been in the major championship pressure cooker. Stenson had a stretch of 5 top tens over a 9 major stretch between 2008 and 2010. Stenson has also returned to form this year. Johnson's last two Opens have been an impressive T2 and T9. Johnson has also finished with at least one top 10 in a major for four years in a row. Finally, Westwood has finished in the top 10 an amazing 50% of the time in his past 16 majors. Maybe more amazing, Westwood has finished 2nd or 3rd an astounding 6 times over that time period.
All in all, it will make for an amazing weekend of golf.