Dustin Johnson Leads British Open at St. Andrews After 36 Holes
ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- And on the third day, the winds came.
A day after torrential rain suspended play for more than three hours in the second round of the 144th Open Championship, wind gusts of up to 40 mph howled through the Old Course on Saturday, rendering the links unplayable for much of the day. (Locusts aren’t forecast for Sunday, but more rain is expected.)
Despite the high winds, the 14 groups that failed to complete their second rounds on Friday were dispatched back to the course at 7 a.m. Saturday. But when balls wouldn't sit still, the players were summoned back to the clubhouse just 32 minutes later. Play did resume again, but not until 6 p.m. local time. When the second round finally concluded, at roughly 9 p.m., the scoreboard didn’t look dramatically different from how it did 24 hours earlier.
Dustin Johnson, the 18-hole leader, began his Saturday morning with a bogey on the par-5 14th. But when nearly 12 hours later he birdied the home hole for a 69 to pair with his opening 65, he moved to 10-under-par to reclaim the lead from Danny Willett, the 27-year-old Yorkshireman who finished his second round on Friday.
MORE BRITISH: Scores From Round 2 At St. Andrews
Paul Lawrie, the 1999 champion, parred the five holes he played on Saturday to shoot 70 and remain at 8-under, in solo third. The six players at 7-under include three major champions, Zach Johnson, Adam Scott and Louis Oosthuizen, and the 27-year-old Australian Jason Day. Jordan Spieth, five strokes back at 5-under, still has visions of the Grand Slam dancing in his head.
Tiger Woods -- you remember him, right? -- could take a small measure of encouragement in his second-round 75, because it was a stroke better than his woeful opening 76. He left the Old Course, as he did Chambers Bay, spewing swing lingo and with question marks over all parts of his game.
“I hit the ball solid,” he said. “It's just that it wasn't getting through the wind. I don't know what was causing that, and it’s something that we're going to have to take a look at, look at my numbers, see if the spin rates are on or not, but it was so frustrating because all my shots that I hit solid and flush into the wind, they just weren't carrying at all.”
There was some question among the field about whether play should have resumed at all this morning. The R&A issued a statement defending itself: “We spent an hour at the far end of the course, before play started, assessing whether the course was playable. Balls were not moving on the greens and while the conditions were extremely difficult, we considered the golf course to be playable. Gusts of wind increased in speed by 10-15 percent after play resumed. This could not be foreseen at the time that play was restarted and made a material difference to the playability of the golf course."
Still, many players, especially those who restarted their rounds on the more exposed parts of the course, took umbrage with the R&A’s decision to play. After Jordan Spieth three-putted his first hole this morning, the 14th, on-course mics caught him saying, “We should never even have started.” (After signing for a 72, Spieth tempered his remark, saying that the R&A was in a tough spot and “I believe there was nothing they could do differently.”) Other players were less forgiving. Ted Scott, Bubba Watson’s caddie, tweeted, “Every R&A official in player dining is getting yelled at. Lots of players pissed in here.”
Patrick Reed, who is eight back, characterized the R&A’s call as “poor judgment.” When Reed arrived at the course early Saturday morning, he said balls were oscillating on the practice green. “I was shocked that we actually went on,” he said. “I think the most disappointing thing is some guys only hit one shot, some guys hit none, and we had to continue playing”
The R&A chief Peter Dawson took the stand in a press conference Saturday evening and reiterated that “it was the right decision to play.”
He did allow that “it proved that as the wind increased that we would have been better not starting.”
How windy was it? So windy that Brooks Koepka tried to mark his ball five times on the 11th green, which is flanked by the Eden Estuary and St. Andrews Bay. “The ball was just rolling and rolling,” Koepka told GOLF.com later in the day before a chipping session at the practice green. “I put it down and it kept rolling and marked it again and it kept rolling. I’m pretty sure everybody else had the same issues. You saw what happened to Louis.”
As in Louis Oosthuizen. At approximately the same time as Koepka’s wind woes at 11, Oosthuizen—clad in a winter cap and neck warmer pulled up to his nose—prepared to strike a two-foot putt for par on the 13th green when a gust blew his ball about a foot closer to the hole. Under Decision 18-1/12, the wind is not considered an outside agency, so Oosthuizen could rightfully play the ball from its new position.
He and his playing partner Tiger Woods shared a laugh about Oosty’s good fortune, but before the South African could tidy up his 4, his ball took off again—this time stopping five or so feet away from the hole. (Moments later play was suspended; Oosthuizen would later hole the putt.) Up ahead at the par-5 14th, Dustin Johnson opened his day by fatting a chip shot just barely onto the front of the green. Instead of hustling to mark his ball, he moseyed. As he leaned down with his ball mark, a gust blew his ball back off the green and down a slope. He needed three shots to get down from there and made a bogey.
A 10-plus hour weather delay will tax even the mellowest players, but the pros all found ways to fill the time. At about 2 p.m., Ian Poulter tweeted that he would be “at the chipping/putting green in 5 mins if you want me to sign a few autographs.” Darren Clarke drilled irons on the far right end of the wind-whipped practice range, in front of a jammed grandstand (for fans hungry for action, the range and practice greens were for most of the day the only shows in town).
Sergio Garcia relaxed in the caddies’ marquee, sipping a Coke with his brother and manager, Victor. Edoardo Molinari FaceTimed on his phone in the shadows of the St. Andrews Links Clubhouse, which houses the players’ locker room. Just outside the locker room Dustin Johnson sprawled out on a small leather couch like a teenager watching TV in his living room. Earlier in the afternoon Ben Curtis and Kevin Kisner’s caddie, Duane Bach, sat side by side on that same couch. It looked like they hadn’t moved in hours.
Curtis, the 2003 Open champ, was among the players on the Old Course early Saturday, but he said he didn’t hit a single shot, because the group ahead of him couldn't get their balls to settle down on the green.
Throughout the afternoon restless fans spilled into town for pints and bites to eat. Watering holes on the Old Course’s doorstep, such as The Dunvegan Hotel and the Hams Hame, teemed with people, but deeper into town other typically less trafficked pubs and cafes also enjoyed a surge in business. Finding an open table for lunch was not for the weary. At the Fischer and Donaldson bakery, an elderly Scottish lady issued an apology to a visiting American. “I’m terribly sorry,” she said. “Rain yesterday, wind today. A shame. I do hope they’ll come back.”
Oh, they’ll come back. They always do.
Back at the course fans patiently waited in the grandstands, which remained remarkably full through the day. Families lounged on the mounds and swales of The Himalayas putting course. Friends packed picnic tables outside The Open Arms, a beer vendor behind the grandstand along the 18th fairway. A manager on duty said that the Arms sold more than 3,000 pints on Friday and that he was enjoying more brisk business on Saturday.
Willett completed his round Friday, but on Saturday afternoon he was back at the Old Course toying with putting aids on the square practice green adjacent to the first tee. As he unspooled a device that looked like a set of knitting needles, an R&A official leaned over the fence and alerted Willett that they were aiming to resume play at 6 p.m.
The Yorkshireman smiled and woofed, “I’ll be back in bed by then!”
Smart man. If the next two days are anything like the last two, he’ll need his sleep.
They all will.