THE GHOSTS of the many St Andrews legends like Old and Young Tom Morris and Willie Auchterlonie would have nodded approvingly as they watched Graeme McDowell play the last four holes of yesterday’s second round in the Open Championship.
When the recently-crowned US Open champion set out at 8.42am, the rain was falling steadily but the wind was of no great consequence. By the time he turned for home, however, the 40mph gusts that shortly afterwards led to the postponement of play were arriving, while some fierce showers also contributed to extremely testing conditions.
Even though he bogeyed the 12th and failed to birdie the long 14th, McDowell remained unruffled and proceeded to play the final four in two under par to sign for a 68 and a five under par total of 139.
At that point, he still remained seven shots adrift of South African pacesetter Louis Oosthuizen, but had played himself back into the championship. And it was the manner in which he played those closing holes that gave him most satisfaction.
“This golf course asks you to hit all the shots and that’s what I love about links golf,” said McDowell.
“There’s nothing one dimensional about the golf out there. You’ve got to hold them up, hook them on the wind, putt from long range, chip and run it.”
Only a golfer who grew up on a great links like Royal Portrush could have envisaged and executed the 80-yard shot that ended about four feet from the hole at the 18th.
McDowell’s highly experienced caddie Kenny Comboy advised him to fly it in with a lob wedge but the boss thought differently, opting instead for a good, old-fashioned pitch and run with a closed face eight iron.
It scampered through the Valley of Sin and across the huge putting surface, before stopping almost within tap-in distance of the flag. The natives of the Home of Golf will tell you that’s the right way to play this game.
“The fairways are so tight and unforgiving here and the wind was really howling,” he argued. “Very often I listen to Kenny when it comes to the short game but when you’re on a links like this, it’s very much how you see it yourself.
“I’ve seen lots of shots along the ground this week and I’ve kind of gone back to where I grew up. It’s nice to be able to play shots like that. I hit a great four iron to 16 which probably never got more than about 15 feet off the ground. It was just a real driller in there. That was great.
“Then there was 17. I tried to pop one on to the front edge as there’s no way I could see a shot chasing up on to the top surface. I’ve played it to the front edge both days and had really good two putts so I’ve played it the way my game plan suggested. I hit a decent drive and had 174 yards to the front edge and I just chipped a six iron.”
As he expressed a wish for the wind to blow for the next two days, McDowell was unaware of the savage gale that was about to lash the course and cause the stoppage. He wouldn’t want it anything as bad as that but emphasised that “I still need it to blow. I don’t need Louis Oosthuizen shooting five under again.”
He also identified shortcomings in his putting as he admitted that “I’ve had four three putts in two rounds which is unlike me. There are a lot of shots between Louis and myself and obviously if he keeps playing like that, he’s going to be difficult for me to catch.
“This is a major weekend and the weather is going to be a huge element. I’m happy to be in position. There’s a long time to wait until tomorrow afternoon and there are plenty of deep, coffin-like bunkers to bury you.
“I’m going into the weekend with no expectations at all. I’m not putting any pressure on myself. I’ve got myself in a great position.
“I’ll be out tomorrow free swinging as I love being in contention going into the weekend. It’s weird saying I’m in contention when I’m seven back, but there’s not too many guys in front of me. I love the way I’m playing so I think I can have a good weekend.”
Meanwhile, former champion Paul Lawrie feels the “brutal” conditions in the second round of at St Andrews have already had a significant impact on the outcome of the tournament.
The 1999 Claret Jug winner began the day three under, six behind overnight leader Rory McIlroy, but crashed out after 40mph winds literally blew the players off the course.
Play was suspended for 65 minutes because of conditions but had improved little by the resumption and most of the later starters suffered as a result.
Lawrie signed for an 82 – his worst round in his 18 Open appearances – to finish seven over.
“It was a tough day and I can’t ever remember an Open – apart from the third round at Muirfield in 2002 – which was worse,” said the Scot.
“Yesterday I don’t think I could have had it any easier and today I couldn’t have had it any tougher – it was brutal.
“I thought it was unplayable three or four holes before they stopped it but I’m not the guy who makes the decision.
“We were on the seventh green and you couldn’t stop the ball there.
“The first couple of holes after the restart were better but the last four or five were pretty much the same.
“The Open is always the luck of the draw and this week will prove that.
“I’m not saying it was easy for Louis this morning because I think it was raining but I don’t think there was that much wind.
“You certainly wouldn’t be getting to 12 under when we were out – but you have to take your chance when it comes along.”
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