Friday, December 09, 2011

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — The wind was freshening, quartering, whipping, helping, hurting and most of all infuriating.

On a day in which gusts reached 41 mph behind the seventh and 11th greens, suspending play for more than an hour, stocky South African Louis Oosthuizen refused to capsize, shooting a 5-under 67 for a 12-under total and a five-stroke lead over Mark Calcavecchia at the halfway point of the 139th British Open at St. Andrews.

"You've got to focus on where you're pointing the umbrella," said Oosthuizen, 27. "Otherwise you don't have one [anymore]."

Play was stopped because of darkness at 9:45 p.m. local time, with 30 players still out on the course, a late finish caused by a wind delay that stopped play for 65 minutes. They will complete their rounds starting at 6:30 a.m. Saturday, and third-round play will begin an hour after the completion of round two.

Paul Casey (69) and Lee Westwood (71) were at 6-under, six behind, while Steven Tiley, also from England, also was at 6-under but through just 10 holes.

Friday's all-day, all-weather assault on the 156-man field was a far cry from the calm conditions enjoyed by the early starters Thursday.

Teeing off in the morning, Oosthuizen and Calcavecchia were among the part of the draw fortunate to play through rain showers but, initially anyway, not much wind. Off in the first threesome of the day at 6:30, Calcavecchia, 50, made five birdies and no bogeys.

Playing in the group behind, Oosthuizen birdied the fifth, sixth and seventh holes in the rain before scratching out a back-nine 34 that included four birdies and two bogeys.

With orbs oscillating on the greens, play was called at 2:40 before Tiger Woods could putt out on the first hole. Players and caddies lounged on the grass, awaiting the restart — not that there was much difference between the pre- and post-suspension wind.

"I don't think they should have called us off the golf course," said first-round leader Rory McIlroy, who had blitzed the Old Course with a record 63 on Thursday but plummeted off the leaderboard with an 80 (1-under total). "When we got back out there the conditions hadn't changed; the wind probably got a little bit worse. It probably wasn't a smart move."

The Thursday/Friday contrast vindicated wise, old Tom Watson, who had said that while the Old Course had been a pushover, it would get its revenge.

"That was one of the toughest days out on the golf course I can ever remember, to be honest," said Paul Lawrie, the 1999 Open champion, who shot 82.

"Every hole is a tough par," said Phil Mickelson, who shot 71 and was at even par, tied for 46th place.

Woods drove the green on the par-4 18th hole and, electing to finish his round after the horn had blown, narrowly missed his eagle putt. He tapped in for birdie and a 73. He was at 4-under, tied for 15th place, eight behind Oosthuizen.

"It was blowing just as hard when we came back out [after the delay]," Woods said, "especially when we got out toward the loop."

Even the "winners" from Friday emerged with horror stories.

Paul Casey triple-bogeyed the Road Hole but bounced back with a birdie on 18.

Ricky Barnes went 4-over for his last five holes but still carded a 71 (5-under).

Some observers were already wondering aloud whether Oosthuizen wouldn't come back to the field. He'd failed to make a cut in three Open starts before this week, and missed the cut at last week's Scottish Open.

"I'm pretty happy to be in the clubhouse at 5-under," said U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell, who shot 68 at St. Andrews on Friday. "Obviously I'm seven back, but that's only one guy. We'll see what happens."

McDowell trailed Dustin Johnson on the last day of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, when Johnson suddenly gave up six shots in a span of three holes.

Few would have expected Oosthuizen to be low South African, much less the leader of the entire tournament. He came through the Ernie Els junior golf foundation in South Africa, along with another prodigy named Charl Schwartzel.

The two were on the South Africa team that won the 2000 World Junior title, and Oosthuizen got his introduction to links golf when he won the Irish Amateur Open. He had had uneven results as a pro, but when pal Schwartzel won the first two tournaments on the European Tour schedule this season, Oosthuizen knew he, too, was good enough.

The son of a farmer in Mossel Bay, South Africa, Oosthuizen needed a victory at the European Tour's Open de Andalucia in March to get into this year's Masters, and came through with his first victory on that circuit. He missed the cut at Augusta National but said his win in Spain imbued him with invaluable confidence.

"Everyone around here is telling me, 'You've got the shots, you're playing well,'" he said. "And again, that win earlier this season just got my mind set in a different way."

Much of the talk after Thursday's opening round at the Open was the draw, which because of unusually calm conditions gave the early starters an advantage.

No one caught a break with the weather Friday.

Buoyed by an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole, Mickelson went out in 3-under 33. Then things changed. The wind began to howl, blowing errant shots even farther off-line, as if the world's best players were chasing soap bubbles instead of golf balls.

Trying to drive his ball as close to the green as possible on the 348-yard, par-4 12th hole, Mickelson watched in horror as the wind took his tee shot and sent it into a large collection of gorse bushes left of the fairway. He made bogey and came in with 38.

"I've got to go out and shoot a low round tomorrow," he said.

Leery of pelting the Old Course Hotel with his drive, Casey missed left of the 17th fairway, into what he called the thickest rough on the course. Trying to play it safe and chip out, he cut underneath the ball with his second shot, failing to advance it.

"I wanted to go straight sideways," Casey said, "but couldn't go at it too hard because if I went at it too hard and it came out [too strong], I could end up in room 312."

Watson, who at 60 is just one year removed from his runner-up finish at the Open at Turnberry, stood on the Swilcan Bridge and waved to the crowd on 18. The five-time Open champion narrowly missed his eagle chip and shot 75 for a 4-over-par total.

The cut is expected to be at 1- or 2-over par.

"This is not my last Open Championship," Watson said. "I intend to play some more. But it's my last Open Championship in St. Andrews."

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