HOYLAKE, England -- For the second straight major, Rickie Fowler will play in the final group Sunday. Unfortunately for Fowler, for the second straight major, he has considerable ground to make up.

Last month at Pinehurst, it was Martin Kaymer at the U.S. Open who ran away to an eight-shot victory, with Fowler settling for a tie for second. This time he'll be trying to chase down Rory McIlroy, who has a six-shot advantage.

If nothing else, Fowler is gaining experience. He is the only player to have top-five finishes at each of the first two majors.

"If I'm able to go out and get off to a good start, maybe I can put a little bit of pressure on him, because he's definitely in control of the golf tournament right now," Fowler said.

Fowler, 25, whose lone PGA Tour victory came in a playoff over McIlroy (and D.A. Points) at the 2012 Wells Fargo Championship, was tied with McIlroy on Saturday with six holes to play.

But Fowler played them in 2 over while McIlroy went 4 under, including eagles at the 16th and 18th holes.

Fowler and McIlroy's history goes back to 2007, when both were amateurs playing in the Walker Cup in Northern Ireland at Royal County Down, a competition won by the United States.

"In '07 you're really never sure about what's going to happen in the future," Fowler said. "He was definitely the young star over here. And I was one of the young stars from the U.S.

"But the past couple of years, seeing what he's been doing, obviously he has two majors already. He's a bit out in front of me right now. It was just a matter of time the two of us found a way to sneak into a final group together."

7th GreenDottie Pepper/ESPNThe 7th hole at Royal Liverpool had standing water on it after play ended Saturday because of a deluge shortly after the final groups finished play in Round 3 of the Open Championship.

HOYLAKE, England -- There was considerable consternation over the R&A's decision to go to a first-ever, two-tee start at the Open -- especially when the really poor weather and lightning that was forecasted did not materialize. Although there was heavy rain at times, it was mostly early, and everyone finished -- before rain pelted the course afterward.

It wasn't the rain R&A officials were concerned about -- most likely, the tournament would have gone on Saturday afternoon, although photos showed some greens with standing water, which would have halted play. Lightning was the big reason. Lightning is rare in the U.K., but the forecast called for it, and officials wanted to give themselves the opportunity to complete the round if there were delays.

"It's easy to say now that it was the wrong decision looking at the weather we've had thus far," said 2011 Open champion Darren Clarke. "But if they have a couple of bolts of lightning in the next couple of hours, it's going to mess up everybody's day, isn't it? They've had to do what they had to do to try and get it done today, and they're trying to do what's best for the tournament. So there can be no blame apportioned at all to the R&A for that."

Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty ImagesRickie Fowler, left, and Rory McIlroy were fresh-faced amateurs at the 2007 Walker Cup.

HOYLAKE, England -- Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler have come a long way since competing against each other at the 2007 Walker Cup, as seen in the above photo.

They've already dueled in a PGA Tour playoff, where Fowler prevailed in 2012 at the Quail Hollow Championship to capture his only PGA Tour title.

And Saturday afternoon, they were on track to be grouped together in the final round of the Open Championship with the Claret Jug on the line.

In 2007, they were 18-year-old amateurs, with Fowler playing for the United States and McIlroy part of the Great Britain & Ireland team. The Walker Cup is played every two years and is similar to the Ryder Cup, although it's contested over just two days.

The two were involved in one match, with Fowler and Billy Horschel defeating McIlroy and Jonathan Caldwell 2 and 1 in Sunday's morning foursomes. It was an important point for the Americans, as the U.S. won the competition 12½ to 11½.

The match was played at Royal County Down, in McIlroy's native Northern Ireland.

Phil MickelsonAP Photo/Jon SuperPhil Mickelson helped himself with four birdies, but gave most of them back with three bogeys.

HOYLAKE, England - If Phil Mickelson wants to comfort himself on the long ride home, he can envision how he would feel if last year had never happened. A Mickelson minus the dramatic, come-from-behind victory at Muirfield would be a Mickelson disconsolate over the missed opportunities at Royal Liverpool.

But he did take the Open Championship of 2013, and he did enhance his Hall of Fame legacy by winning the one major he was never supposed to win. So the 1-under 71 Mickelson shot Saturday in soft, forgiving conditions offering up scoring chances that might've given him some hope on Sunday? The knowledge that he would play the final round at Hoylake with no more chance to seize the Claret Jug than a fan in the crowd has?

Hey, he still has Muirfield.

"Sure, it will ease a lot of things," Mickelson said of the memory. "Just having success in this tournament means a lot to me in the past. But getting a taste of it last year, I just want it more. It makes me work harder, makes me want to come here and play harder even more."

He hated links golf as a younger man, and now he adores it. Mickelson wasn't moved to complain about anything outside of his own game; he said he had no problem with the R&A's decision -- in anticipation of brutal weather that never quite arrived -- to send players off early in the third round and off both nines for the first time in the long and rich history of this event.

"It's not like it's a big deal," Lefty said. "We do it every week."

But despite facing what he called "beautiful scoring conditions," Mickelson left the course dismayed over the fact he turned a 65 or 66 and an outside crack at a two-peat into a Sunday practice round for next month's PGA Championship.

"Oh my goodness," he said, "I threw countless shots away -- not shots, opportunities, away -- all throughout the day. And it's just frustrating.

"But I know that it's not far off, but it's got to click. It just hasn't yet."

Tom WatsonPaul Ellis/Getty ImagesAt the ripe old age of 64, Tom Watson -- a five-time Open champion -- continues to make cuts.

HOYLAKE, England -- Old Tom Morris. Old Tom Watson.

Watson keeps making Open Championship cuts -- and history. He broke his own age record Friday just by sneaking into the weekend field at Royal Liverpool.

The 64-year-old Watson, who has won five Claret Jugs, remains the oldest player ever to make an Open Championship cut. He set the record in 2012 at Lytham.

"There's no age when I'm out there," he said Friday. "I'm doing the same thing as I did when I was 22 years old, although I can't hit the ball very hard anymore."

For what it's worth, Watson finished with the same two-day score as Tiger Woods: 2 over.

Bubba WatsonWarren Little/Getty ImagesBubba Watson stood at 4-over through two rounds of the Open Championship.

HOYLAKE, England -- After shooting 72 and finishing outside the projected cut line, Masters champion Bubba Watson asserted that there has "not been one positive thing'' said about him on television or in print.

In a wide-ranging interview session, Watson was asked if, with the proliferation of social media and other high-tech ways to watch sporting events, he would rather attend a golf tournament.

Said Bubba: "Some coverage is not very fun to watch, just saying. I don't minding watching an LPGA event. They're always positive. It would be rare to hear a negative comment. So watching that ... I don't mind watching it. I hate the negative comments.

"I mean, guys are trying their hardest. We always hear, 'Oh, that's terrible,' this and that, this and that. 'I did this when I was 17 years old. Shot 63 before.' So no, that's why I don't watch coverage anymore; there's too much negative stuff going on in the world, not just golf, the whole world. Just can't even watch that stuff.''

He was then asked if he really doesn't follow men's professional golf because the coverage is negative.

"Oh gosh, there's a lot,'' Watson said. "There's not been one positive thing. I'm waiting on that one. Then I'll start reading. Well, I can't read yet, but I'll start.''

HOYLAKE, England -- Jason Day arrived at the first tee Friday morning wearing blue and white trainers tape around his left wrist. An afternoon earlier, Day was in such pain that there was some question whether he'd have to withdraw from the Open Championship.

An injured thumb has caused him to miss parts of the 2014 season, but it was his wrist that had him doubled over in pain Thursday. When the round of 1-over-par 73 was complete, he politely declined media requests and instead got treatment on his wrist.

On Friday, after another round of 73, he said the injury first occurred during a practice swing on the fifth hole in Thursday's play, "and something popped in my left side and it was like kind of a tingling sensation through my hand. And it went straight up my elbow."

Day said he experienced a similar injury last year, when something popped on his right side.

"Yesterday, I just tried to forget about it," he said. "And then today I hit it much better today."

Francesco Molinari Matthew Lewis/Getty ImagesFrancesco Molinari's best career finish at the Open Championship came last year at Muirfield.

HOYLAKE, England -- Italy might have stunk it up in the World Cup when it didn't make it out of the group stage, but, at the Open Championship, the country's fortunes appear to be on the rise.

Brothers Francesco and Edoardo Molinari continue to hover around the top 10, if not near the lead, here at Royal Liverpool. Closely behind is 21-year-old Matteo Manassero, who owns four career European Tour victories. Only Francesco Molinari sits inside the top 50 in the world, at No. 43. Manassero is 69th, and Edoardo Molinari is 146th.

The brothers Molinari matched 68s in the first round, although neither could match par on the front nine Friday afternoon.

Francesco Molinari, 31, was famously paired with his 33-year-old brother at the 2010 Ryder Cup, where the Europeans edged the Americans 14½ to 13½ at Celtic Manor in Wales.

Bryden MacphersonRoss Kinnaird/Getty ImagesBryden Macpherson improved his score by 10 shots Friday, including a birdie at No. 10.

HOYLAKE, England -- When is an 80 in the Open Championship good? When it follows a 90.

For Australia's Bryden Macpherson, that was the case through two days at Royal Liverpool, where he managed to take the high road despite some major struggles.

"We just got away this week from one of the feels that I've been using, that I've been playing the last eight tournaments, don't ask me why," he said. "And that has obviously taught me a lesson not to do that again."

Macpherson, 23, played college golf at the University of Georgia and is playing on the PGA Tour China Series, a developmental circuit that is a level below the Web.com Tour. He earned his place in the Open by finishing tied for fourth in November in the Australian Open, where the top three otherwise not exempt won a spot here.

But Hoylake is a long way from Sydney, and Macpherson was humbled by the experience.

"It's just character building, that's all it is," he said. "If you see it as anything more or anything less, then you're looking at it the wrong way."

Asked whether he considered withdrawing after the first-round 90, Macpherson was emphatic. "Definitely not, no," he said. "I've never pulled out of a tournament, a competitive event, and I plan to keep that for the rest of my career."

McIlroy's mixed history with 36-hole leads

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18

Rory McIlroy looked to be avoiding the "Freaky Friday" meltdown that has done him in so often this year as he made the turn with a 2-shot lead at the Open Championship.

If McIlroy can finish Friday with the 36-hole lead, a greater challenge awaits: hanging on to it. 

According to ESPN Stats & Information, he has held the two-day lead at a major just twice, with vastly different final results.

  • At the 2011 Masters, McIlroy took a 2-shot lead into the weekend -- and a 4-shot lead into Sunday's final round -- before collapsing down the stretch and carding an 8-over 80 on the tournament's final day. 
  • At the 2011 U.S. Open, held at Congressional, he carried a 6-shot lead into the weekend … and never looked back, eventually extending the final margin to 8 strokes (he finished the tournament at 16 under par).

Holding a two-round lead at this event, however, is uncharted territory for the Northern Irishman, whose best two-day finish at the Open Championship had him in 19th place (in 2011 at Royal St. George's).  

More recent history suggests McIlroy should be fine. His Saturday and Sunday scoring averages on the PGA Tour this season hover around 70, 2 strokes better than the dreaded Friday average of 72.