Saturday, July 19, 2008

July19_g_flag1_600x399_3 SOUTHPORT, England — When I was growing up in Boston, the common joke was, “If you don’t like the weather, just wait 15 minutes.” Who knew Boston had so much in common with Birkdale?

Forecasts for strong winds on Saturday were right on target, as a blustery weather system rips across the course, promising very tough scoring conditions for the third round of the Open Championship.

Players in the final groups will face steady winds of around 38 mph, with gusts as strong as 45 or 50 mph. According to the Beaufort Scale (created by British Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort), that’s classified as “near gale” conditions: “Whole trees in motion; inconvenience felt when walking against the wind.”

At 39 mph, we reach official “gale” conditions: “Breaks twigs off trees; generally impedes progress.”

Flying twigs alone won’t earn players a reprieve today. Earlier this week, Royal & Ancient Chairman Peter Dawson announced that he'd only suspend play if balls can’t stay still on the greens. The message to players was subtle but unmistakable — show some stiff upper lip.

Among the morning starters Saturday, only Davis Love III and Henrik Stenson managed a score of level par (70). Stenson’s 8-over total left him in a tie for 35th when he signed his card, but you can be assured he’ll be a lot closer to the top of the leaderboard as the day progresses. Later groups can expect trouble as high winds peak at around 2:30 p.m. (9:30 a.m. EST). The last group of the day, K.J. Choi (1-under) and Greg Norman (even) will go to the tee at 2:40 p.m.
Three-time Open champion Nick Faldo told BBC viewers that the conditions mean that no one is out of the tournament. According to Faldo, anyone in the early groups who posts a decent number can sit down in the clubhouse and watch the leaders come back.

The R&A did make some concessions to Mother Nature, moving up the tees on three holes with hard-to-reach fairways, in some cases all the way to the members’ tees. The tee box on the par-4 16th will play 68 yards closer on Saturday (371 yards), and the 436-yard 11th — which players have called the most difficult fairway to reach — was moved up 78 yards. (Photos: Bob Martin/SI)

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