SOUTHPORT, England — While the sun shined and umbrellas disappeared with the rain, the gusting 40-mile-per-hour winds on Saturday turned Birkdale into a course only Mary Poppins could love.
Early starters Ben Curtis and Henrik Stenson scrambled home with even-par 70s to reach seven and eight over par, respectively. They will be among the final groups on Sunday, as the wind whipped more severely for Saturday’s leaders than for those with earlier tee times.
Moving Day had become Hang On for Dear Life Day.
“I made some Houdini saves out there,” Stenson said. “And I just hung in there.”
Jean Van de Velde, on the other hand, was hung out to dry and left flapping in the wind. He started Saturday four over, five behind leader K.J. Choi. But the Frenchman began bogey, par, bogey, double bogey, bogey, bogey … au revoir, British Open hopes. He posted a six-over front-nine 40, then hacked his way up 10 and 11 for two more doubles.
Van de Velde’s quirky personality was on display today, notably on the fourth hole. Everyone was falling short of the 201-yard par 3, which played into the sharp teeth of a harsh gale, but he just had to be different. Van de Velde hooked his tee shot 50 yards left of the green into a gorse bush. Spectators swarmed over the crossing point before marshals realized the he was about to hit a provisional. Not surprisingly, the frantic and hopeless hat-waving of Lynne the lady marshal failed to halt the stampede.
Van de Velde reached the prickly bush. Hundreds trampled over the ground to help him look for his ball. Voila! There it was. An imperfect lie, but he didn’t have to shed his shoes and socks, as he did at Carnoustie in 1999. The jovial Parisian plays for the love of the game, not glory, which explains his cheery disposition in the face of calamity.
“Everybody out of the way,” he shouted with a laugh, preparing to swing. “Ball is coming — hopefully. This could be a great three. Or maybe two. Or a helluva four.” Hack, chip, two putts.
It was a scrappy five.