Golf-Majestic Morikawa seizes Open lead with 64

Golf - The 149th Open Championship - Royal St George's, Sandwich, Britain - July 16, 2021 Collin Morikawa of the U.S. in action during the second round REUTERS/Paul Childs

SANDWICH, England (Reuters) -American debutant Collin Morikawa tore up the Royal St George's links with a scintillating six-under 64 to storm into a three-shot lead at the British Open on Friday.

The 24-year-old world number four collected seven birdies under sunny skies, with only one blemish, as he moved to nine under at the halfway stage of the 149th Championship.

Until he dropped his only shot on the 15th hole, Morikawa looked set to lower the course record held by Nick Faldo and Payne Stewart and even threatened Branden Grace's 62 at Royal Birkdale in 2017, the best round in major championship history.

A missed birdie attempt at the 18th ended his round in slightly anti-climactic fashion, although after rounds of 67 and 64 the 2020 PGA Championship winner has put himself in a superb position to challenge for the Claret Jug over the weekend.

"I feel pretty good. Towards the end of the round we stopped hitting fairways and making a few birdies, but overall, it's a very good 64 and I will take it," said Morikawa, whose 131-total for 36 holes has only been bettered twice in Open history.

"It was great conditions for scoring and I made a lot of fairways early on. Bit more of a grind the last few holes."

He was three shots clear of overnight leader Louis Oosthuizen, who was out later in the day, and another South African, Daniel van Tonder who carded a second-round 66.

Argentine Emiliano Grillo also reached six-under as birdies on the 17th and 18th saw him match Morikawa's 64.

Van Tonder, caddied by his wife Abigail, sank a birdie on the 18th to take the clubhouse lead before the majestic Morikawa set a formidable benchmark for the later starters.

Former champion Jordan Spieth and Brian Harman, both on five under, tee off later when winds are expected to remain relatively light, although with the rollercoaster-like fairways hardening up, the course will bare its teeth.

Morikawa birdied the first and salvaged par on the fourth after a wayward tee shot then picked up another birdie on the fifth after a superb approach shot.

He drilled a 25-footer at the eighth to move level with Oosthuizen before another birdie on nine took the Open debutant clear at the top of the leaderboard.

There was no stopping Morikawa as he left himself a 30-footer for birdie on the par-three 11th and confidently dispatched it.

Morikawa found deep rough off the tee at the par-five 14th but hacked out and then played a superb approach to gain another shot to move to 10-under for his round.

His charge was halted at the next hole, however, as an errant tee shot left him scrambling for his par and this time a putt slipped past the hole.

Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy, seeking a first major since 2014, received a huge ovation from the galleries as he strode to the first tee hoping to start climbing the leaderboard after his battling level-par 70 on Thursday.

But bogey fives on the first and second holes stopped him in his tracks before birdies on the fourth and ninth left him on level-par but with work to do to make the cut.

(Reporting by Martyn HermanEditing by Toby Davis)

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