LYTHAM ST. ANNE'S, England — When Brandt Snedeker located his wayward tee shot on Royal Lytham's par-4 18th hole on Friday, he peered down and saw his ball burrowed in a bed of damp, clumpy grass and calf-high fescue. With six birdies already on his card and a four-stroke cushion over his then-nearest competitor in the 141st British Open, Snedeker could have been forgiven for trying to lash something up to the green.
"Can you get it?" inquired his caddie, Scott Vail, meaning could Snedeker get a club on the ball.
"Oh, yeah," Snedeker said.
"To the green?"
Snedeker looked down again, cracked an impish grin, and then reached for a wedge, refusing to veer from the safety-first strategy that he had followed so religiously over the first 35 holes. Snedeker pitched his ball to the fairway, spun a lob wedge to 10 feet, and from there, well, if you know anything about Snedeker's putting stroke, it was as good as in. He poured in his par putt for a 64 and a two-round, 10-under-par 130 that tied Nick Faldo's 36-hole British Open scoring record, set at Muirfield in 1992.
When the dust — or, in Royal Lytham's case, the muck — had settled Friday evening, Snedeker had a one-stroke edge over Adam Scott (64-67) and was four ahead of Tiger Woods (67-67). Not bad for a guy who has never played the weekend in three previous British Open starts.
"I call it boring golf," Snedeker said of his fairways-and-greens game plan. "I'm shooting away from every pin, trying to put it 25, 30 feet away and hopefully make some putts." Some putts? Snedeker holed three birdie putts in the 20-foot range and a 45-foot bomb for bird at the sixth.
Snedeker's big red "10 under" loomed atop scoreboards all over Lytham as many of his pursuers were still in the early parts of their rounds. That group included the first-round leader, Scott, whose play remained stellar if not spectacular. The Australian made birdies at 7, 10, 11 and 18 to climb to nine under for the championship. He is in solo second place, one behind Snedeker. "I don't think I should get into match play with only Brandt tomorrow," Scott said. "I just have to play my game. It's certainly not the last round."
Should either of them prevail on Sunday, the consecutive run of first-time major-winners will extend to nine.
Tiger Woods would like to halt that streak, and after his second-straight 67, he's in position to do it. Woods began the round trailing Scott by three, and he spent most of his afternoon stuck in neutral. Through 15 holes, Woods was one under for his round, but then he birdied 16 and 18 to vault to six under for the week. His last birdie came in dramatic fashion as he holed a bunker shot from right of the 18th green. The key to Woods's success thus far has been his accuracy off the tee — he missed just one fairway in each of the first two rounds — which has allowed him to stay out of the junk.
"The rough out here is just unbelievable," Woods said. "It's so long that it doesn't grab the hosel, it grabs shafts."
Woods is four back of Snedeker. If Woods is to catch him, or anyone else who takes the lead over the next 36 holes, he will need to buck a trend: In all three of his British Open wins, Woods held the 36-hole lead. Four players are knotted in a tie for fourth at four under: the 1999 British Open champion Paul Lawrie (71); Graeme McDowell (69); Matt Kuchar (67); and Jason Dufner, who sauntered in with a four-birdie 66. Eighty-three players survived the three-over cut, including 62-year-old Tom Watson, who birdied the 18th hole to finish on the number — despite hitting his last putt on what he thought was the wrong line.
"I knew it was going to break left at the end, but I didn't know that much break," Watson said.
Phil Mickelson missed the weekend by a mile, finding all sorts of trouble on the way to a 78 and an 11-over total.
That more players didn't go low in the second round — the scoring average was 72.01, nearly half a shot higher than Thursday — was somewhat surprising. The holes appeared to be cut in more challenging locations, but the continued calm-and-soggy conditions seemed ripe for scoring. About a half-inch of rain fell Thursday night and early Friday morning, which pushed the already saturated course to its brink. A soundtrack of squishing feet filled the cool, heavy Lancashire air, and many of Lytham's 206 pot bunkers, unable to absorb any more water, resembled bathtubs with backed-up drains. Some bunkers remained that way throughout the round, causing a litany of players to debate whether they should play sand shots from casual water or take a free drop and risk their balls plugging.
"I guess you just have to treat [the bunkers] as if they've got stakes around them,'' Geoff Ogilvy said after a 68. ''You probably should treat them like that, anyway, because they're pretty much a one-shot penalty, anyway."
Snedeker had no such concerns. Through 36 holes, the 31-year-old Nashville native has yet to find a single bunker, calling to mind a feat that helped Woods win the 2006 British Open at bunker-pocked Hoylake; on his way to that title, Woods avoided all but one trap. "I don't expect that stat to hold over the weekend," Snedeker said. "I'm fully prepared to hit it in a few bunkers."
Snedeker has won three PGA Tour titles, but he might be remembered best for his teary session with the media after a difficult Sunday at the 2008 Masters. Snedeker shot 77 that afternoon to kick away a chance at winning. He ultimately tied for third. Two months later, at the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, he tied for ninth, but since then he has recorded just one top-10 finish at a major, at the 2010 U.S. Open. He did not play this year's U.S. Open because of a cracked rib caused by, believe it or not, a nagging cough.
So if you didn't foresee Snedeker bringing Lytham to its soggy knees this week, don't sweat it, because neither did Snedeker.
Hell, that's the first thing he told reporters after walking off the course on Friday: "I'm sure everybody in this room is as shocked as I am right now."