SOUTHPORT, England – It’s impossible to pinpoint the exact moment this 146th Open Championship truly began, but 11:56 a.m. local time is a pretty good guess.
Standing in the ninth fairway, the poor lad carrying the standard lost complete control in the whipping wind, and the name cards MCILROY, JOHNSON and SCHWARTZEL sailed into the rough.
Up ahead, Dustin Johnson didn’t even seem to notice. He was deep in discussions about club selection with his caddie/brother, Austin – a rare sight for a duo that often needs only a few seconds to pull the trigger. But there was DJ, waiting and waffling, until he eventually pulled a short iron and sent his second shot screaming toward a gorse bush right of the green. His ball drilled a journalist, Philip Reid of the Irish Times, squarely in the left cheek, leaving a sizeable welt.
Unfortunately, Reid fit right in Friday, as he and everybody else at Royal Birkdale got roughed up on a day that had a little bit of everything – cold, hellacious wind, torrential rain … and plenty of exasperation.
“An awful day out there,” huffed Kevin Na, who shot 75. “A good day to sit at home and watch a movie.”
After finishing his round, Matt Kuchar was downright giddy at the thought of watching the afternoon wave slog through what was supposed to be the most difficult conditions of the week. After all, he’d done well just to come in at 71, and he was more than happy to regale the press with stories of his wind-whipped day, when it felt like every hole, every shot, was into a stiff crosswind.
Most telling was the 162-yard 12th hole. Kuchar needed to start his tee shot way left of the green, over the spectators, and only in the last 20 yards of his ball’s flight did it finally slide right, into the middle of the green.
“There’s a whole lot of trouble to be had,” Kuchar said, “and trying to hit solid shots that the wind is going to affect the least is challenging. It’s really, really tricky trying to figure it out.”
The scores reflected the players’ uncertainty:
• In the first 20 groups alone, 17 players shot 40 or worse for nine holes.
• The second-round scoring average was 74.00 – more than two shots higher than Thursday.
• There were only eight sub-par scores Friday, and just nine players under par after 36 holes.
• Zach Johnson shot 66 – and the two-time major champion said it was one of his top-5 rounds, ever.
“It would be a shame if it poured and blew a little harder later,” Johnson said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “It would just be a crying shame.”
Johnson got his wish, although the players (and caddies) in the afternoon wave faced a different set of challenges.
Though he started in relatively benign conditions, Jordan Spieth eventually had more wardrobe changes than a Katy Perry concert. The first squall rolled through while Spieth was on the seventh tee, and caddie Michael Greller rummaged through a pile of assorted rain needs – extra towels, five gloves, mismatched black and blue rain gear – to keep his boss dry. (Little wonder the bag weighs about 40 pounds.) The second squall came on Spieth’s 10th hole, while he chipped in for par. Moments later, play was halted so officials could squeegee the waterlogged greens.
That blustery stretch brought to mind last year’s second round at Royal Troon, when Spieth and Co. caught the bad end of the draw and played through sheets of rain and 50-degree temperatures. But overall, Spieth was pleasantly surprised by what he faced Friday – especially after watching the early starters suffer.
“It was tough watching,” he said. “It wasn’t a great feeling knowing we were coming into something harder than what we were watching. … But I didn’t think the conditions got as bad as when I was sitting on the couch this morning, as what we expected.”
And so, as he often does, Spieth was able to capitalize on a brief respite during the round. When the heavy rain turned to a mist and the flags were limp, he poured in a 35-footer (11), stiffed a tee shot (12) and then made eagle (15), after his 3-wood skipped along the soggy turf and rolled within 20 feet.
Following a second-round 69, Spieth was asked about his mindset and his nerves, holding another 36-hole major lead.
“Honestly,” he said, “right now, I’m just happy to be inside.”
Sounds like a typical day at The Open.