Greg Norman's lead didn't hold up as K.J. Choi shot a 3-under 67 to snatch the top spot heading to the weekend at the British Open.
|KJ Choi will find himself at the top of the leaderboard on Day Three [AFP]
The South Korean finished with back-to-back birdies for a 69 on Friday, rolling in a 20-footer at No. 18 to push his two-round total to 1-under 139.
He was the only player in the field under par.
"I'm very surprised,'' he said.
He shouldn't be.
A year ago at Carnoustie, Choi was just two strokes off the lead at the 36-hole mark, playing in the final group Saturday with Sergio Garcia.
He couldn't keep it going, fading to a tie for eighth.
Three weeks after marrying tennis great Chris Evert, Norman kept up the honeymoon at Royal Birkdale with his second straight par 70, leaving him one stroke off Choi's lead.
No expectations for the Great White Shark
Norman won the Open twice in his prime but never thought it was still there for the taking at age 53.
"My expectations were almost nil coming in,'' he said bluntly. "I hadn't played a lot of golf.''
Talk about low expectations. There's no way David Duval could have expected much, not after missing the cut 10 of 11 times on the PGA Tour this year.
Suddenly, he's playing like the guy who won the 2001 British Open and seemed ready to challenge Tiger Woods as the world's best player.
After that, injuries and erratic play sent his career into steep decline.
With two holes left, Duval was a 1 under for the day and just three strokes behind Choi.
With two days to go, Norman still considers himself the longest of long shots, and he's got players half his age, such as 26-year-old Camilo Villegas, who shot the best round yet with a brilliant 5-under 65 Friday, poised to challenge.
Still, it was amazing to see Norman's name atop the leaderboard at a tournament he won in 1986 at Turnberry and then again in at Royal St. George's seven years later, especially since he's trying to be the oldest player by far to win a major.
Julius Boros was 48 when he captured the PGA Championship in 1968.
"You feel like you're stepping back in time,'' Norman said, his bride watching from the back of the room after following him around the links course.
"My expectations are still realistically low. ... I haven't been there for a long time.''
Villegas in fine form
With no offence to Choi and Norman's steady play, no one was hotter Friday than Villegas, who started his round with two bogeys but closed with five straight birdies, rolling in putts of 16, 6, 16, 3 and 20 feet.
"I obviously played unbelievable,'' the Colombian said.
|Greg Norman can't complain about his form over the weekend [GALLO/GETTY]
Villegas, dubbed "Spider-Man'' for his unique, crouching style of reading putts and one of golf's most noted fashion plates, has come across as more flash than substance.
He's never won on the PGA Tour, but put himself right in contention at a tournament known for unlikely champions, including Ben Curtis and Todd Hamilton.
The Colombian had eight birdies overall. He capped his amazing run at the
end by striking the flagstick with his approach at No. 18, then sinking the
putt after the ball ricocheted onto the fringe.
Golf's oldest major began in miserable weather, but conditions improved dramatically Friday.
Despite a grim forecast, the rain largely held off and the breeze off the Irish Sea remained relatively calm by Birkdale standards.
Defending champion Padraig Harrington, who was wondering on the eve of the tournament if he'd be able to play with an ailing wrist, was right in contention again after an eagle-birdie finish left him with a 68.
He was part of a logjam at 142, joining Rocco Mediate (73), Graeme McDowell (73), Jim Furyk (71), Robert Allenby (73) and Alexander Noren (70).
Garcia, looking to make up for a devastating playoff loss to Harrington at Carnoustie, rolled in a 75-foot birdie at No. 4 but ran into trouble after
He bogeyed the 10th and double bogeyed the next hole on the way to a 73, leaving him six shots behind going to Saturday, instead of holding the lead.
Several big names flirted with the cut line.
Ernie Els followed an opening-round 80 with a 69, but slammed his putter to the ground after missing a short par putt at No. 18. Vijay Singh, who also started with an 80, looked to be heading home after shooting 71.
Phil Mickelson appeared safely through to the weekend after rebounding with a 68, 11 strokes better than he shot in the soaking rain and howling wind on Thursday.
Lefty was eight strokes behind Choi.