HOYLAKE, England — George Coetzee wasn’t planning much of a celebration for his 28th birthday. He did give himself a pretty nice gift — a 3-under 69 at the British Open.
The obscure South African, who this year claimed his first career win on the European Tour, climbed within one shot of leader Rory McIlroy on a Friday when the wind picked up at Royal Liverpool.
"This is definitely my favorite major," Coetzee said. "It’s always going to be my birthday week. It’s nice to play well, obviously, in a very prestigious event. And to have my birthday coincide with it is also nice."
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Coetzee was actually tied with McIlroy at 6 under after three straight birdies on the back side. He capped the run with little more than a tap-in at the par-3 15th, his tee shot curling up about 2 feet from the hole.
That’s when he took a peek at the scoreboard, noticed his name above all others — and promptly bogeyed the next two holes.
"It’s obvious I looked at it as soon as I was at the top," he said, chuckling. "But it was quite a good feeling to look at my name and be at the top of the leaderboard."
He pulled himself together, finished off with another birdie at the 18th, and reached the midway point of the tournament with a 5-under 139.
McIlroy and most of the others on the leaderboard had afternoon tee times.
In the meantime, Coetzee planned a low-key gathering with his mother and girlfriend.
"A couple of Cokes," he said.
After pristine conditions along the Irish Sea on Thursday, the wind was gusting up to 35 mph (55 kph), whipping the flags and making it much tougher to go low. At least the expected showers held off, the morning starters going off in warm, sunny conditions.
McIlroy opened the tournament with a bogey-free 66, a familiar position that either sets him up for a good run at the claret jug — or another dose of second-round failure.
This year, McIlroy has started a couple of tournaments with 63s and another with a 64, but wasn’t able to win any of them. For some reason, he’s had a serious case of the yips in the second round, putting up a cumulative score of 15-over par compared with 55 under for the opening round, and 39 under on the weekend.
Seventeen players were within three shots of the lead heading to Friday, including Tiger Woods in his first major of the year and just his second tournament since back surgery. His second round got off to a tough start with a double-bogey at the first hole, the troubles beginning with an errant drive over the gallery along the left side of the fairway. Then he lipped out a putt that would have salvaged a bogey, the ball ricocheting off the right side of the cup.
Defending champion Phil Mickelson bounced back from a 74 on Thursday, which left him with the immediate priority of making the cut. A chip-in for eagle at the fifth gave Lefty a much-needed boost, and he was safe for the weekend after rolling in a 15-foot birdie putt at the final hole for a 70.
Mickelson pumped his fist a couple of times and walked off with an even-par 144.
The world’s top-ranked player, Adam Scott, rallied for a 73 with birdies on the final two holes, leaving him at 141 and solidly in contention for his second major title.
Sergio Garcia has never won a major. Maybe he’ll end that frustration after shots like the one he pulled off from the rough along the second fairway — a 150-yard iron shot that found the cup for an eagle.
The Spaniard threw up his arms as the crowd roared, then slapped hands with playing partners Rickie Fowler and Luke Donald. The improbable shot took Garcia to 5 under.