HOYLAKE, England (AP) — 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."
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, the 14-time champion bounced back from bogeys at the first two holes to shoot 69.
The world's top-ranked player, Adam Scott, also got off to a strong start with a 68, though a couple of early bogeys Friday stymied his momentum a bit. He was 2 over for the round through 12 holes.
Defending champion Phil Mickelson got off to a frustrating start with a 74, leaving him with the immediate priority of making the cut. A chip in for eagle at the fifth gave him a much-needed boost, and he seemed safe for the weekend at 1 under through 14 holes.