RORY McILROY’S worst fears were realised in the cruellest fashion at St Andrews last night when his prospects of a first major title at the tender age of 21 were almost certainly blown away by the gale force winds that swept over the Old Course and turned the British Open into nothing short of a lottery.
Gusts of up to 41 mph caused the suspension of play for 65 minutes from 2.40pm and there were mixed opinions about the decision to restart. The hapless McIlroy, so magnificent in his record-equalling first round of 63 on Thursday, afterwards staggered from one body blow to another until he eventually signed for an eight over par 80.
It was the first time in ten rounds that he hadn’t scored 69 or better at St Andrews although as one media centre wag cracked, “at least he still hasn’t shot in the 70s here!”
He has fallen from nine to one under for the championship and nobody in modern times has exceeded his first round by as many as 17 shots. At least he made the cut, unlike the Australian Rod Pampling who went from 71 to 86 at Carnoustie in 1999 and wasn’t heard of again.
“It was very difficult out there and I just let it get away from me,” said McIlroy, who displayed admirable zeal and courage in coming out to face a large number of media people in the mixed zone. “I’m not making any excuses because I know I didn’t hit it well and didn’t get myself into the right places but I don’t think they should have called us off the course because the wind hadn’t changed when we started again.
“A lot of big names are out of the championship and at least I’m around for the weekend and that’s a positive. If it’s calm, I feel I can go out and shoot another low number but if it’s windy again, then I’d be relying on the leaders to mess up.”
Which suggests that even at ten off the pace, McIlroy feels he still has a chance but it remains to be seen if he can regroup quickly enough to make a serious challenge over the weekend. It would be certainly a measure of his mental resolution were he to do so.
The great fear that the championship would be spoiled by the weather were certainly realised. The early starters didn’t have things their own way by any means but what they encountered paled in comparison with the savagery that the heavens unleashed from around 2 o’clock onward.
It all left for the most unlikely leader board when the second round was terminated shortly before 10’clock last night. 27 year-old Louis Oosthuizen from Mossel Bay, South Africa, finds himself out in the lead by an incredible five strokes having shot scores of 65 and 67 for a 12 under par total of 132. Next best is 50 year-old Mark Calcavecchia, who enjoyed being out in the first match of the day so much that he brought in a 67 for seven under.
Even so, there are many who believe that when the serious business gets under way this afternoon, that it is Tiger Woods and the experienced English duo, Paul Casey and Lee Westwood, both six under, who are best placed to impose their will over the next couple of days. At precisely 9.35, Woods produced the shot of the day, an incredible drive that never left the flag and rolled 15 feet past the cup from where he two putted for birdie and four under par overall.
Ireland’s Graeme McDowell also played himself into a position from where he could challenge for a second major championship in the space of a month. He is feeling nice and relaxed after his victory in the US Open and right on top of things mentally and physically after yesterday’s 68.
None of this is intended to dismiss Oosthuizen’s prospects of becoming the first South African to claim the claret jug since Ernie Els at Muirfield in 2002. His rounds so far have been replete with driving and putting of the highest quality and his qualities have been apparent in Ireland since he showed a high-class field home in our Amateur Open at Royal Dublin in 2002. He is a product of the Ernie Els Foundation and claims he wouldn’t have made it as a professional at all were it not for the aid financial and otherwise provided by the ‘02 champion.
He also attributes his new found confidence to his first success on the European Tour in the Andalucian Open earlier this year but he has made the cut in only one of his previous seven appearances in a major championship, the 2008 US PGA, and regardless of his five-shot lead, he will come under massive pressure over the two final rounds.
McIlroy seemed to have a fair point in criticising the suspension of play for he started nicely and the change in wind velocity wasn’t apparent to too many people. He shaved the hole for birdies at the first and third and was in the middle of the fourth fairway when forced to down tools. What happened next was a litany of disasters. Shots were sprayed in all direction as the wind destroyed the youngster’s swing and bogeys inevitably flowed at the fourth, sixth, seventh and eighth. He failed to capitalise on the birdie chance at the only downwind par 4 on the outward nine, the ninth, and was back in further trouble with a double bogey at the short 11th. After just missing the green, his first putt rolled back to his feet and he took three more to get down.
By this stage, his mind was totally frazzled and he looked anything but a happy camper. Further shots went at the 13th and 15th before he regained his composure to finish with three pars. But the damage had been done and sadly all the benefits of the first round had blown away in the Fife air.
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