By Tony Jimenez
LYTHAM ST ANNES, England (Reuters) - American Brandt Snedeker, who missed the cut in his three previous British Opens, made amends in thrilling fashion by seizing the lead with a six-under-par 64 in Friday's second round.
While the majority of the field seemed stuck in reverse gear on a calm day at Royal Lytham & St Annes, the 31-year-old accelerated clear with a record-equaling 36-hole total of 10-under 130.
Overnight leader Adam Scott birdied the 18th to add a 67 to his opening 64 and former world number one Tiger Woods (67) sprinkled his own special brand of stardust by holing out from a greenside bunker at the last to move into third place on 134.
Young Dane Thorbjorn Olesen (66) was fourth on 135, one ahead of a cluster of players including 1999 champion Paul Lawrie (71) and 2010 U.S. Open winner Graeme McDowell (69).
"My mantra all week has been to get the ball on the greens as fast as possible," Snedeker told reporters.
"Once I'm on there I have a pretty good handle for the speed of the greens and I'm just going to try and keep doing that over the weekend."
Several high-profile players missed the cut, among them former world number two Phil Mickelson, who tumbled to a 78 for 11-over 151 to continue his dismal record in the tournament.
Defending champion Darren Clarke also failed to make the weekend along with former world number one Martin Kaymer, Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose and Charl Schwartzel.
World number three Lee Westwood parred the last four holes to scrape through by the skin of his teeth on 143 and second-ranked Rory McIlroy struggled to a 75 for 142.
Luke Donald (68), the world number one, notched four birdies in an outstanding five-hole burst from the fourth as he remained on the fringes of contention on 138.
Snedeker, who won the Farmers Insurance Open in California in January, reaped a rich harvest of birdies after ramming in a confidence-boosting 25-footer at the par-three first.
With most of his rivals toiling as light winds changed direction and organizers placed the flags in awkward spots on faster greens, Snedeker charged five strokes in front at one stage.
The blond American struck laser-guided approach shots at the sixth, seventh and ninth holes to set up three more birdie opportunities he gratefully devoured as he raced to the turn in 30.
Snedeker, who has never won a major and missed the cut at the 2008, 2009 and 2011 Opens, made further inroads at the 11th and 12th before showing the touch of a master to get down in two from thick greenside rough at the 15th.
The American, who had a hole-in-one at the par-four 16th in practice on Wednesday, signed off with three more regulation figures to tie triple Open champion Nick Faldo's 36-hole aggregate of 130 at Muirfield in 1992.
"I've got a cushion now," said Snedeker. "I don't have to play the best golf over the next 36 holes.
"I have to play good golf but maybe not the best of anybody. The fans over here are great, very knowledgeable, and they applaud for great shots and it's good to realize that a 25‑footer sometimes is a great shot."
World number 13 Scott has also yet to land his first major but feels he is ready to achieve the breakthrough.
"This week is kind of a culmination of everything I've done over the last couple of years," said the Australian who turned 32 on Monday.
"I feel like this is the path I've been going down and it's happened here that I've put myself in good position after two days at a major. I think it's just the practice adds up and eventually pays off."
Woods, dressed in all-grey as he attempted to end a four-year major drought, played down his exquisite bunker shot at the last.
"It wasn't as hard as it may have looked," said the 36-year-old American. "Because I was on the upslope I could take out that steepness coming off the bunker and land the ball on the flat.
"I just threw it up there and I played about a cup outside the left lip and it landed on my spot."
Britain's Richard Finch had the misfortune to take 10 at the par-four eighth on the way to a 79.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)