‘Play is suspended’. That was the message that greeted everyone as they entered the gates early this morning. Standing water, seen most dramatically on the first and eighteenth fairways and greens, rendered the course unplayable and consigned the early starters to the clubhouse, with just the first two groups hitting off just after 6:30am.
The delay totalled three and a half hours with the hooter to restart proceedings sounded at 10am. And what a different outlook it was then. Brollies were collapsed and jackets removed as the sun came out and the breeze picked up to quickly dry the course and the waterproofs.
The early starters made hay with seven of the first 21 players to tee off breaking 70. Notable inclusions in that group were Australian Steven Bowditch, two-time Open winner Padraig Harrington and local favourite Marc Warren. The latter has been in fine form of late, finishing third in his home Open just down the road in Gullane last week, and shot a 69 to go with yesterday’s 68 and hold the clubhouse lead at seven-under.
It was a brief stay at the top, though, as, three groups and about 30 minutes behind, came Danny Willett. It’s been quite a few months for the Englishman – a win in South Africa at the back end of 2014 saw him get inside the world’s top 50, earning him invites to the Masters and WGC events across the pond for the first time. He took advantage, finishing third in the WGC Cadillac Match Play in May. His charge shows no sign of abating and, but for two late bogeys, he might have held on to his one-time four-shot advantage atop the leaderboard. As it is he enjoys a two-shot cushion over Warren, Zach Johnson, Dustin Johnson and Adam Scott.
The latter should have lifted the Claret Jug three years ago at Lytham – a late collapse handing victory on a plate to Ernie Els. The Australian has a great chance to finally right that wrong this year, though. He was quite brilliant today, firing a bogey-free 67 to get right in contention.
The sun was still out late in the afternoon as Tom Watson teed off in what may yet prove to be his final Open Championship round. The five-time winner should just about get through his 18 holes before darkness descends on the Old Course. The same cannot be said for the likes of Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Tiger Woods who, along with those close to the cut line – which currently hovers around level par – are in for another unsettled night as they face the prospect of an early return on Saturday to complete their second rounds.
What they said…
Jaco Van Zyl, (RSA, +4): ‘The first hole was fun, to say the least. Good thing is we had a down breeze. I mean, otherwise we would still be out there. But yeah, very interesting this morning and cleared up nicely, and by the time we got to the back nine, it was not too bad.’
Steven Bowditch (Aus, -5): ‘Yeah, it's going all right. I feel like I'm hitting it out of the centre of the club most of the time. I feel like I got pretty good distance control with conditions. Yeah, it's all right. I don't feel like I've made a putt yet. I feel like I've just sort of - not plodded it around but hit it in the spots I've needed to hit it most of the time with my iron play, and yeah, we'll just see what the conditions do this afternoon, and it'll depend on how we go tomorrow.’
Padraig Harrington (Ire, -3): ‘I think that wind is definitely the easier wind of the golf course, so I see people still moving forward this afternoon. I played every shot as hard as I could. It would have been nice to hole the putt on 17 for birdie, but you know, 69 is a decent return. You know, I'm six behind at the moment. I can't see it being only six at the end of the day, but if it wasn't too far off, you never know tomorrow, you could get a decent draw again and make some ground up.’
Marc Warren (Sco, -7): ‘Pretty relaxed at this moment in time. Just really enjoying the atmosphere. I'd say I've got a few years' experience on Tour. I know it's very early days as far as the golf tournament goes. There's only two rounds gone. Really just relishing the opportunity ahead of me this weekend, enjoying the situation I've put myself into and this is a situation and something everyone dreams about who's played golf as a kid. To live out at least a part of that dream is pretty cool.’
Danny Willett (Eng, -9): ‘Another great day, level par on the back nine was a good score so, yeah, I’m chuffed. You’ve got to embrace where you are and enjoy it. We’re up there because of playing good golf so we’ve just got to keep doing the same things over the weekend.’
Zach Johnson (USA, -7): ‘I feel good about my position. Clearly you'd rather be towards the top than in the middle or the back going into the weekend. At the same time, it's only two days. You don't know what Saturday is going to hold. They're not going to finish today, so clearly they've got to come back out. The cut will be made midday, I assume late morning, and then we'll have to re-pair. But you know, I'm just excited where my game has been and where it is right now, whether it continues or even progresses from here this week, that would be fantastic. If it doesn't, I still like the state of where I'm at.’