SANDWICH, England — You’re eight shots back with 36 holes to play. Can you still win the Open Championship?
Paul Lawrie famously won his Open starting 10 shots back in the final round in the 1999 Open at Carnoustie. Of course, Lawrie never could have done that without the help of the Fabulous Frenchman, Jean Van de Velde, and a playoff. But eight shots back with two rounds to play is definitely alive and kicking. So is 10 shots.
Except at this Open.
If you weren’t within seven shots of the lead Friday, you missed the cut. The Open cuts to the low 70 and ties, period. There is no rule allowing any additional players within 10 shots of the lead to make the cut.
So Lee Westwood, the No. 2 player in the world, shot 144 and was eight back. He missed the cut. Padraig Harrington, three-time major champion, eight back and gone. Justin Leonard, who was on the leaderboard for parts of the first two rounds after he began the Open with three straight birdies, cut. Others at 144 included J.B. Holmes, videographer Ben Crane, Hunter Mahan and Ross Fisher.
At 145, nine shots back, we lost Graeme McDowell, Nick Watney and Matteo Manassero.
But it’s not about who was cut. The names don’t matter. It’s about what’s fair.
The British Open used to have a 10-shot rule — it also used to have an annual second cut after the third round — but discarded it after an aberration at Royal Birkdale in 1991 when 113 players made the 36-hole cut. The unwieldy field was a big problem on the weekend so the R&A decided it would never happen again.
Here at Sandwich, we had another aberration with 100 players within 10 shots of the lead. The real reason behind the tightly packed field was the course setup. Who knows if it was to protect par or prevent low scores, but Friday’s hole locations were extremely difficult. Players couldn’t get close to the flags, and the field spent the day trying to two-putt every green from 35 feet. The best players couldn’t make birdies, but a lot of players could still make pars. So the field became bunched.
At the end of it, there were 71 players within seven strokes of co-leaders Darren Clarke and Lucas Glover, and that’s where the cut fell because of the Open’s low-70-and-ties rule.
If it’s not time to reinstate the 10-shot rule, at least an eight-shot rule would be a step in the right direction. There were 86 players within eight strokes this week and 93 within nine.
Since 2000, a 10-shot rule would’ve increased the field five times, including this year. In 2009 at Turnberry, it would’ve added 11 players, including Tiger Woods. In 2003 at Royal St. George’s, there were eight additional players within 10 of Davis Love’s lead. In 2002 at Muirfield, yes, there would’ve been a traffic jam with 25 more players getting in. Another 12 players would’ve made the cut in 2000 at St. Andrews.
I’d propose reinstating the 10-shot rule and then, if more than 80 players make the cut, trimming the field to low 70 and ties with a second cut after the third round. That would eliminate the possibility of an oversized field for the final round.
Or, as a compromise, how about an eight-shot cut rule? Since 2000, that would have only changed the cut this year, the one time it was truly needed. It would have kept alive the chances of Westwood, Harrington and Leonard, among others, who still had a legit chance to win this Open.
It’s time for the R&A to reconsider its cut rule. To do otherwise would be the unkindest cut of all.