High winds and heavy rain pummeled the early groups on Saturday

High winds and heavy rain pummeled the early groups on Saturday

Rickie Fowler was sporting heavy gloves between shots and a white rain suit that set him apart from the crowd. He handled the weather as well as anyone on Saturday.
Kieran Doherty/Reuters

SANDWICH, England — Jason Day hit a 180-yard 2-iron. Bubba Watson worried that his 125-mile-per-hour driver swing would separate his club from his cold, wet hands. Caddies went through more towels than a Motel 6.

Until the rain mercifully stopped around 3:45 p.m., in time for the leaders to play most of their rounds in relative comfort, the third round of the 140th British Open at Royal St. George's on Saturday was played in a washing machine: driving rain and fierce winds that gusted up to 35 mph.

"There was a moment where me and Bubba looked at each other and started laughing," said Day, whose 76 left him at seven over and too far back to seriously contend for the claret jug on Sunday. "The rain was coming down really hard."

And sideways. Players turned dripping caps around backward while putting, taking a page out of Jim Furyk's playbook from last year's Tour Championship. Every umbrella was just one good gust from turning into a satellite dish.

Gary Woodland was cruising at two under through 11 holes, playing what Ryan Moore called some of the best golf he'd ever seen, when conditions caught up to him. Woodland went six over for his next seven, including a triple-bogey 8 after pumping his tee shot out of bounds on the par-5 14th hole. He shot 74.

Jung-Gon Hwang made two birdies, which was nice. He also made 10 bogeys, a triple-bogey and a double-bogey for an 83. Thank you for playing, Jung-Gon, and enjoy your commemorative player's badge.

Anything even remotely fun about being out there today?

"No," Moore said after signing for a 76.

Phil Mickelson wore two gloves while scratching out a remarkable 71 to remain at even par for the tournament. Day wore a ski hat. Everyone wore an expression that said he'd rather be at the dentist's office. Who exactly would pay money to watch golf in such weather? "You're just mental," Paul Lawrie (81) said to the crowd at the 15th hole.

"There'll be a few OBs there today, that's for sure," Moore said of 14, where his playing partner had such trouble.

Sure enough Rory McIlroy went out of bounds on the hole just a few hours later on the way to a double-bogey 7 to drop to four over for the tournament, all but drowning his title chances. Even watching the action on TV was tough; the BBC's camera lenses seemed to be coated in Vaseline. When the rain finally let up, most players had either succumbed completely or about nine-tenths of the way to the elements, the voices in their heads or both.

Spencer Levin quadruple-bogeyed the par-4 fourth hole and was 12 over for the day as he staggered off the 15th green. In some states he could have been pronounced legally dead. He went one under for his last three holes for an 81 and a 12-over total. At least he had company. Harrison Frazar had a 77, Ricky Barnes a 78, Bill Haas a 79. Even the English were blown to bits. Paul Casey shot 78 and Justin Rose 79.

The worst part? After signing and attesting to so much misery, and going home to their rental flats and hotel rooms for a hot shower and a nap, players and caddies watched the clouds part for the late starters. The sun even came out.

"Well and truly stuffed," tweeted Casey's caddie, Craig Connolly.

Peter Uihlein, who double-bogeyed the 18th hole to shoot 75, tweeted that the conditions were the worst he'd ever seen. The hardest part, he said, was the putting. Trevor Immelman agreed.

"They could easily be the worst conditions I've ever played in," said Immelman after signing for a very solid 72. Not that he cared, obsessed as he was about staying dry. From 12 to 14, Immelman said, he went through a glove a hole. "We also went through about five or six towels," he added.

Tom Watson also came in with a 72, a fine score for a 61-year-old or a 21-year-old or anyone in between. He was four over for the tournament.

"Conditions are bothersome," Watson said.

That was one way to put it. "Impossible," was another. That was the assessment of Englishman Kenneth Ferrie after he signed for a 76.

"I think they could have moved some more tees a bit forward," said Ferrie.

Watson twice used his driver off the fairway, once on the 495-yard, par-4 fourth hole, the hardest hole on the course, and once on the par-5 14th hole.

Day, 38 years Watson's junior, said the fourth hole required a 240-yard carry to reach the fairway, "and I hit my drive 200 yards and absolutely smoked it." He said he decided to play the par 4 as a par 5, and still he made a 6.

Louis Oosthuizen hit driver, 3-wood to the par-4 eighth hole and, though the tee had been moved up 40 yards, didn't reach the green. Said Ferrie, "I'd be surprised if anybody is under par at the end of the day."

As it turned out, three players — Darren Clarke, Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler — managed under-par rounds, but only one of them saw the worst of the conditions: Fowler. Playing with McIlroy, Fowler one-putted nine greens and birdied three of his last six holes for a two-under 68. He looked like the only lemming who knew how to swim, and said he'd seen worse.

It was the nicest thing anyone said about the weather all day.

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