Australia’s Cameron Smith took the lead at the 150th Open after a sensational eight-under par second round of 64 left him on 13 under.
The world No 6 leads by two shots from Cameron Young, the overnight leader who shot a 69 on Friday to sit at 11 under.
Rory McIlroy, the favourite coming into the week, built on his opening 66 to shoot a 68 and sit third on 10 under. Dustin Johnson, who went out early and posted a 67, is fourth on nine under.
Thriston Lawrence is the best-placed South African heading into the weekend, on four under, followed by Dylan Frittelli and Garrick Higgo on three under.
Smith sat joint-third overnight after shooting a five-under-par 67 in his first round on Thursday. He improved on that with the best score recorded by any player in the field on Friday, featuring six birdies, an eagle and no dropped shots.
Smith birdied each of the first three holes while his eagle came via an outrageous long putt at the par-five 14th.
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Young, who opened with a 64, bogeyed the second hole on Friday but steadied himself after that and closed with a birdie on 18 to take sole possession of second place.
World No 1 Scottie Scheffler and England’s Tyrrell Hatton, who went out together early in the morning, both moved onto eight under at the halfway stage of the championship.
Masters champion Scheffler shot a second consecutive 68 while Hatton enjoyed a bogey-free 66 on Friday.
The last player to win the Masters and Open in the same year was Tiger Woods in 2005.
Hatton is a two-time former winner of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, which is played on a series of links courses including St Andrews.
Collin Morikawa’s defence of the Claret Jug will not last into the weekend after the American missed the cut.
The world No 8, and two-time Major winner, was one-over par for the day and the tournament after a disappointing round of 73 that left him one shot off the cut mark at level par.
It is only the second time that the American has failed to make the cut in 12 major appearances.
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