The field has been chopped in half at Carnoustie, but just nine shots now separate first place from last. As a result, productive Moving Days will be able to propel certain hot starters from the edge of the cut line into the midst of contention. That fine line — between going home and staying in the mix — made the final three holes the setting for scenes of heartbreak and rage to (less often) triumph and relief as the drama heightened on Friday at the British Open.
Dustin Johnson had already sacrificed plenty to Carnoustie’s finishing stretch on Thursday, when he hit a wedge O.B. and made triple. He got to the same stretch Friday walking the cut line balance beam — he teed off No. 17 at three over, the exact score required to make the weekend — and promptly fell off, bogeying 17 and doubling 18 for good measure to miss the cut by three. World No. 2 Justin Thomas saw most of his second-round collapse take place on the front nine, where he went double-double-double at 6-7-8, but he still entered the final three holes one shot inside the cut line. Bogeys at 16 and 17 did him in. Neither player spoke to the media after their rounds.
Those atop the leaderboard weren’t immune to the stretch of holes either.
“I don’t want to talk to you guys,” a frustrated Pat Perez told the media after a closing bogey that left him just one shot off the lead. “I just don’t, if you want to be honest.”
Kevin Kisner, who took a two-shot lead to 18, closed with a double bogey that had him mystified. “It was weird,” he said of his approach shot, which found the burn. “I don’t know if it caught something or what happened. You never know out of that grass. It was in a different grass than usual. It was wet, green grass instead of the brown grass.”
Jean Van de Velde is the most famous victim of Carnoustie’s closing stretch, but plenty of quieter collapses occurred on Friday. Of the 13 players who missed the cut by exactly one shot, 11 of those players were at three over or better entering the 16th hole. Fabrizio Zanotti was one over before doubling 16 and bogeying 17. Chez Reavie bogeyed the final two holes to finish at four over. Matt Wallace and Martin Kaymer bogeyed two of the last three as well. Tom Lehman, chasing the cut at age 59, couldn’t escape 17 without a bogey and joined the group at four over.
Sergio Garcia actually caught a fantastic break at 18; his ball took an unlikely carom off the rock wall enclosing the burn and he managed to save par. But the damage had already been done; he’d doubled 16.
For the second consecutive day, 16, 17 and 18 played as three of the four most difficult holes on the course, with 18 yielding 15 “others” — the most of any hole.
Hideki Matsuyama’s tale of woe was perhaps the worst; after rallying to get to one over for the tournament, his approach shot sailed past an out-of-bounds fence at 18. Needing double bogey to make the weekend, he played a provisional to the left fringe, putted that some eight feet short and lipped out from there, garnering an audible groan from a significant portion of the media center, according to GOLF’s Alan Shipnuck.
But all that heartbreak made the moments of triumph stand out sweeter. Before it was clear where the cut line would settle, Bryson DeChambeau bogeyed 16 but birdied 18 to make it in on the number. It was clear exactly where the line stood when third-ranked Justin Rose arrived at the hole, needing a 3. He delivered.
The most touching moment at the finisher came from Rhys Enoch, a 30-year-old from Wales. He steeled himself down the stretch, securing pars at 15, 16 and 17 as he teetered at three over par late in the day. When his approach shot landed safely aboard the 18th green, he was nearly overcome with emotion as he looked to the sky; Enoch missed the cut at Hoylake in his only other Open appearance. “The last four holes were not easy, and I played them so well. I’m just so happy. The second shot to the last was unbelievable.” When he got to the green, he struck his 20-foot birdie putt somewhat tentatively, leaving it a full foot short of the cup.
“I was just trying to cozy it up there, and my hands were shaking,” Enoch said. He marked that one, took his time, considered it carefully and then brushed it in, leading to a jubilant celebration with his caddie and playing partners, who understood the stakes of just what it meant to stay for the weekend. The emotion was partly borne of practicality, Enoch added. “It helps getting out of the red, which is nice. It helps, it helps a lot. Yeah, I don’t — I’m trying not to think about the finances, but, yeah, it helps massively.”
The finances and drama will only be ramped as the weekend brings further attention and pressure to one of the most challenging stretches in the Open rota. Come Sunday, this year’s champion will have to survive that very same gauntlet. It’s an exciting prospect.