Winds gusting to 40 mph wreak havoc at British Open: ‘You were just trying to hang on.’

By Jim Litke, AP
Friday, July 16, 2010

A day more suited to Mary Poppins than Tiger Woods

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Outlined against a blue-gray sky, a wind-whipped white plastic trash bag cartwheeled up the first fairway in the wrong direction.

Welcome to the Old Course on a Friday better suited to Mary Poppins than Tiger Woods.

For a century and a half, the blue bloods who run the British Open have prided themselves on testing golfers’ skills in the most fickle weather imaginable. The only concession they usually make is to have players who draw a morning time in round one, play round two the following afternoon.

“Whatever you get, you get,” former Open champion Tom Lehman said. Of course, he teed off at 7:03 a.m., getting what turned to be the best weather of the day. Even so, something Lehman said next was impossible to argue with.

“The guy who deals with it and has the best attitude for the conditions and just muddles through is the guy who does the best. Today, it’s not impossible,” he added, “but it’s difficult.”

Difficult enough, anyway, so that even the sadists over at the Royal and Ancient were moved to suspend play by 2:40 p.m., when the wind that began whistling at 11 a.m. turned into a full-time, full-blown howler. Fierce gusts of more than 40 mph sent wave after wave of ominous clouds scudding across the bay, making it almost impossible to line up a putt on several greens without the ball wobbling like a drunk — putting players at risk of a two-stroke penalty.

“It didn’t move on the green for us,” said Phil Mickelson, who finished his round just in time. But Lefty recalled playing a round at the 2003 Open at Royal St. George when the ball “moved six times on me as I was addressing it. Twice, I actually put the club behind it and was penalized both times.

“I have seen it where it’s been unplayable and,” Mickelson added, almost grateful, “it may very well be now.”

It was.

When play resumed at 3:45 p.m., sponsors must have cringed as golfers turned their ballcaps around, swapped them for ski hats or simply went bareheaded. Fans had a hard time keeping track of their favorites because the kids carrying the scoreboards for each group dropped them to horizontal or risked being carried off by the wind, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. At the 12th, golfers who smacked tee shots in the 300-yard range only a day earlier gave back a hundred yards.

“The first normal swing I felt like I could make was on the 13th tee, where it was a little bit sheltered,” Trevor Immelman said. “But other than that, you were just trying to hang on.”

Many couldn’t.

Former champion Paul Lawrie followed up his 69 on Thursday morning with an 82.

“We were on the 10th green when they stopped it. I had a jumbo sausage and chips from a nearby van, which was actually really nice,” Lawrie said. “It was the highlight of the day.”

Robert Rock, two groups behind Lawrie, followed his 68 with a 78. Ross McGowan, another five groups back, followed his 68 with an 80.

Even so, all of them must have felt better than Rory McIlroy. The 21-year-old Northern Irishman and first-round leader shot 80, 17 strokes worse than his opening 63.

“I don’t think they should have called us off the golf course,” McIlroy said, reflecting what many golfers said. “When we got back out there, the conditions hadn’t changed, the wind probably got a little bit worse. It probably wasn’t a smart move.”

No one who teed off after Martin Kaymer and his group at 9:31 a.m., and was able to finish, broke par. It’s no coincidence, either, that second-round leader Louis Oosthuizen, who followed his opening round of 65 with a 67, teed off in the second group of the day. Or that his closest pursuer, 50-year-old former champion Mark Calcavecchia, teed off first.

His two-day total of 137 guarantees Calcavecchia will stick around to play the weekend, which could turn out to be something of a mixed blessing. As soon as this one ends, he’s headed up the coast to Carnoustie to compete in the British Senior Open.

“Hopefully, we’ll get some decent weather next week. It would be kind of rough to play in rotten weather for two straight weeks,” he said.

“If we’ve got to play in this for seven or eight days in a row,” Calcavecchia added, “I’ll definitely be ready to exit the country.”

Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)

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