Halcyon days for two Toms

IT was as if they had turned the clocks back 140 years or so, to those days when Old Tom and Young Tom ruled the fairways of Prestwick in the annual British Open Championship.

Because there they were for so many moments in pulsating warmth on the edge of the English Channel, Old Tom and Young Tom, dominating the Royal St George’s stage in the second round of the 140th British Open.

Tom Watson, 61, and Tom Lewis, 20, for two days traded highlights that captivated crowds of people spread out high atop sand dunes over this massive links.

One day after making seven birdies to seize a share of the lead, Lewis, a young amateur from Welwyn Garden City, played steadily enough to keep the crowd enthralled, though he was upstaged by Watson’s heroics at the par-three sixth, an ace that elicited thunderous applause that could be heard clear across to France.

Splendid stuff from Old Tom and Young Tom and because they shot 70-142 and 74-139, respectively, to make the cut they are guaranteed to please spectators for two more days.

Sadly, the same cannot be said for a healthy list of notable names, Graeme McDowell and world number one Luke Donald most prominently, though Ernie Els, Matt Kuchar and Geoff Ogilvy couldn’t hide from shame, either.

Even as the afternoon wave of players navigated through the dunes and wind of Royal St George’s and the cut threatened to go from three over to four — which is what was giving number two Lee Westwood and Pádraig Harrington hope — those at five over or worse had bags packed and there was definitive testimony to this truism about professional golf — sometimes it’s not who makes the cut, but who doesn’t, that intrigues.

Kuchar, considered America’s steadiest player, had not missed a cut since May of 2010 as his streak of 29 straight was second-best on the American PGA Tour. Yet, in two days at Royal St George’s he made two birdies and if there was anything positive about shooting 74-77 it was this: Kuchar at 11 over didn’t have to hang around waiting for the twilight golfers to come in and make the cut official.

No, sir. Shoddy play had assured Kuchar of an early departure, his first in a major since the 2009 American PGA Championship.

If it were a dislike of links, Kuchar would understand. But it isn’t, so he’s befuddled as to why he’s now missed the cut in six of his seven appearances in the British Open.

“I always have a good time. I enjoy the game,” Kuchar said. “I’ve just never performed that well here. I wish I had an idea, but I don’t.”

Whereas Els, at 41, has an impeccable record on links and needn’t apologise for missing the cut for a second straight summer in the British Open, he also appears to be a player sadly burned out and devoid of confidence. After missing the cut at the US Open last month, he talked openly of distancing himself from the game, hopefully to rejuvenate his passion.

The winner of the Claret Jug in 2002, Els also owns a dozen top-10 finishes and has missed the cut just three times in 21 starts. That’s not the sort of record McDowell can boast, yet his departure was a stunner, too, especially since it was a birdie-free round of 77 that sealed his fate.

“Getting to be a bit of a habit, these types of days,” said McDowell, whose 2011 summer is a far cry from a year ago when he won the Wales Open and US Open within weeks.

Others felt similarly. Nick Watney, recently moved to number 10 in the world on the strength of his second win of the American PGA Tour season, bogeyed 13 and 14, then doubled the par-three 16th to finish at five over, a score that was matched by Matteo Manassero. Angel Cabrera, at six over, was the third member of that pairing to miss the cut.

And when Donald finished with four straight bogeys, he joined the parade of misery as golf once again proved to be a game that humbles all.

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