The Open - Day 2 Wrap Up
JORDAN SPIETH takes a two-shot lead into the third round of The Open Championship after adding a 69 to his opening round of 65. At one stage the American looked like he might be running away with the tournament, but Royal Birkdale bit back.
On days such as this golfers find out a great deal about themselves. The weather during the second round of The Open was as trying and as thoroughly unpleasant as has been seen in these parts for months. The rain fell so heavily that at 5.35pm, with the greens starting to flood, play was briefly suspended. And at the end of it all we are set up for a thrilling final two rounds.
Spieth birdied his opening hole but dropped two shots on the front nine and reached the turn on four under. But he then birdied the 11th and 12th holes and eagled the 15th. He also dropped shots at the 14th and 16th holes. So we have a tournament on our hands.
As the wind howled and the rain hammered down, Zach Johnson somehow conjured a 66 that was surely as good a round as has ever been played on these links. Mind you, after an opening round of 75, he had to go low to make the weekend. Rory McIlroy also remembered that he is supposed to be one of the best golfers on the planet, scrambling quite brilliantly on his way to a 68 that saw him rocket up the leaderboard. Matt Kuchar followed his opening 65 with a 71 and was then able to put his feet up for the afternoon and watch the fun begin as the likes of Spieth and Brooks Koepka, level with him at the start of play, headed out to battle the elements.
If it's July on the northwest coast of England and the wind is blowing at 30mph and the threat of rain is constant then it must be the second round of The Open Championship. After the blue skies, gentle breeze and warm sunshine of the opening day, the climate and the course got their own back as the 156-strong field fought the elements.
On a brutal day during which the wind blew long and hard, Kuchar dropped a shot at the second but took the lead on his own at six under with birdies at the third and fourth. He dropped a shot at the eighth and reached the turn in level par. The American has a flat swing and hits the ball low - if conditions remain the same for the final two days, he may take some beating.
McIlroy, who recorded an opening round of 71 built around an astonishing back nine of 32 strokes, had a swagger in his step after a birdie at the first. He had another chance at the second, but picked up his second birdie of the day at the third. Another glorious approach at the fifth went unrewarded when his birdie putt shaved the hole but he once again looked like a contender.
The sixth hole was causing carnage, with hardly anybody managing to par the hole. Rickie Fowler was the first to birdie it and he followed it with another at the seventh before dropping a couple of shots to reach the turn in one over par. He would eventually finish the day on two over par.
Charl Schwartzel, playing with Dustin Johnson and McIlroy, birdied the fourth to move to five under but then hit his approach at the fifth into an unplayable lie. It cost him a double bogey, and it was generally all downhill from that point.
McIlroy hit a brilliant long iron to three feet at the sixth and when he knocked it in it was his seventh birdie in 15 holes. From nowhere, he was two under par, on the leaderboard and in the hunt for his second Claret Jug. He reached the turn in 31, three under par for the day. It was just after midday, and McIlroy was easily the best player on the course. This was all the more surprising given his three missed cuts in four tournaments and his dislike of playing in the wind. By his own admission, McIlroy plays his best on the PGA Tour because the conditions tend to be benign and the courses are soft.
The conditions were very different from day one. Anybody who could negotiate Birkdale somewhere close to par was going to make huge inroads. And it was no surprise to see Sergio Garcia thriving in the conditions. His best finish at The Open came in 2007, when he finished second to Padraig Harrington at Carnoustie, and he has made it known that he loves Birkdale. Indeed, most of the field were universal in their praise for the course, both in terms of the condition in which it was presented and, more importantly, that it is arguably the fairest course on the rota.
Garcia had opened with a 73, and when he dropped a shot at the fourth and fell back to four over par, it wasn't looking good for the Spaniard. But then came the sort of moment of magic that can change everything - he holed his approach at the fifth and, at two over par, had steadied the ship. He then reeled off a succession of pars before dropping his second shot of the day at the 13th, but he bounced back with a birdie at the par-five 15th. He eventually signed for a 69 after a dropped shot at the last.
All around him were horror stories. Adam Hadwin, fancied by many before the tournament began, had an 82. He was playing with Andrew 'Beef' Johnston, who opened with a 70 but fell back to three over par, largely due to a seven at the 17th.
McIlroy's first big test came at the 10th, where he drove into a fairway bunker, could only hack out and was left with a 15-foot putt to save his par. It didn't even touch the sides and as the ball disappeared into the hole, the Northern Irishman punched the air in delight. Don't let anybody tell you that this doesn't matter to him. He drove into thick rough at the next and was unable to reach the green in two, and then ran his pitch 15 feet beyond the cup. He couldn't hole another to save par, could he? Yes, he could. And another wonderful up and down rescued a par at the treacherous par three 12th.
McIlroy was putting his short game under serious pressure, and it continued on the 13th. He missed another fairway, couldn't find the green with his second and pitched the ball six feet beyond the hole - and this time he missed. It was his first dropped shot of the day. He also missed the green at the 14th but this time saved his par. It was all becoming a little ragged. In the end, he was delighted to walk off the final green having record a 68. At one under par, he was properly in the mix.
Kuchar, meanwhile, was still grinding out the pars. But then he came to the par-five 15th, hit the green in two and two-putted for a birdie to take a one-shot lead on six under. But he handed it straight back at the 16th after bunkering his second shot and was unable to birdie the par-five 17th. Another shot went at the last, but Kuchar was thrilled with his round of 71, which sees him on four under par. One of his playing partners was Scotsman Richie Ramsay, who is used to playing in these conditions. He added a 70 to his first round of 68 and is on two under.
Zach Johnson, the 2015 champion, produced the round of the day. The veteran American had begun his challenge with a round of 75 but he found the wind to his liking and shot a stunning round of 66 that included five birdies and a solitary dropped shot.
Paul Casey began the day one shot off the lead but a round that contained eight bogeys ended his hopes and sits on three over par after 36 holes.
Kuchar had the luxury of being able to put his feet up and watch his fellow competitors struggle in the wind, which grew in strength as the day went on. Jordan Spieth moved to six under par with a birdie at the first, which was playing downwind, but there were tougher tests to come, and he returned to five under when he dropped a shot at the third.
Ahead of him on the course, Ian Poulter was determined to prove his opening 67 was no flash in the pan, and the 41-year-old Englishman battled heroically on the front nine grinding out a succession of pars to remain on three under at the turn. He parred the 10th and 11th and when he birdied the short 12th he had moved to four under par and was just one adrift of the leaders, with the rain hammering down.He dropped a shot at the 16th but produced a brilliant up and down at the last. On 137, the Englishman is in the thick of the battle. What a story it would be if were to go on and win.
Richard Bland, of England, began on three under par and, in the worst of the weather, birdied the second and fourth holes to join Koepka and Spieth on five under but as the weather tooks its toll and the players struggled to keep their clubs (and themselves) dry, everybody started to go backwards and soon there was a four-way tie for the lead at four under - Kuchar, Koepka, Spieth and Bland. Spieth should have dropped another shot at the 10th but saved his par by holing a chip. And then came his remarkable run on the back nine.
Koepka is on three under and Bland finished the day on one under.
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