The most important player as the weekend progresses to its conclusion may not be the guy holding the Claret Jug, but the weather god.
The importance of practice rounds was lessened considerably when the brutal winds that prevailed when the golf didn’t count were replaced by often benign conditions when shots did count Thursday and Friday at the Open Championship.
In Friday’s second round, nobody was able to make a giant leap forward, but Thursday’s leaders did fall back, so the top of the leaderboard is occupied by Darren Clarke and Lucas Glover who are one back of the five-under pace set by Thomas Bjorn and young Tom Lewis the day before.
With 31 players within four shots of the lead, including an impressive cast of four just one shot back, Clarke and Glover have more than a crowded leaderboard to concern themselves with as nasty weather approaches.
Just as the greens, which caused so many problems on Friday, and the fairways firmed up, the field now needs to get ready for rain and winds that will pick up to 33 kilometres per hour with even higher gusts.
The temperature will also go down from a pleasant 24 C on Friday to the high teens, so cold will become an issue as layers replace short sleeves. Suddenly, the prep work done during the practice rounds have practical use, especially if you’re unlucky enough to be out there when the weather hits full force.
Low trajectory will become critical and while the fairways may get softer with the rain, any shot that ventures beyond will be in trouble as getting a club through wet grass becomes more difficult and sand in those bunkers with the nasty lips and towering walls gets heavier.
Greens will also soften, but approach shots will be affected by the wind, which is why the bump-and-run is such a valuable tool in links golf. Once on, players will also have to adjust to different green speeds, not an easy task with all of the undulations.
“I don’t think it’ll help or hurt anybody in particular,” said Glover.
It becomes a matter of survival for everybody, but between the two co-leaders, you would have to give an edge to Clarke with his experience in links golf and his familiarity with such inclement weather at home in Northern Ireland and other European destinations or any player who is used to playing in such muck.
“I’ve been doing a lot of practicing in bad weather because that’s usually what we get at Portrush,” Clarke said. “It’s a case of getting used to playing in bad weather on links again and that’s what I’ve been doing over the winter. Hopefully, it will stand me in good stead,” added Clarke.
A RETRO CHAMP?
With his new scruff, Glover may have a distinction if he hangs in there and wins on Sunday. “They said nobody has won the Open Championship with a beard since the 1890s. That’s what BBC Radio told me,” he said … Matt Kuchar shot a 77 on Friday to go 11-over for the tournament and end a streak of 29 consecutive cuts made on the PGA Tour … Lee Westwood was a pre-tournament favourite to win his first major at the age of 38, but he ends a streak of 26 cuts made … Veteran Mark Calcavecchia shot a nice 69 in the first round, but gained 10 on Friday to go from a tie for 18th to missing the cut.
THE MISSING MAPLE LEAF
With all the flags on the leaderboard in Sandwich, isn’t it humbling that there isn’t a Canadian maple leaf in the field? … Speaking of Canadians, Graham DeLaet of Weyburn, Sask., has confirmed speculation that he will not be playing in next week’s RBC Canadian Open at Shaughnessy Golf and Country Club in Vancouver. After suffering from a bulging disc last year, DeLaet underwent surgery in January followed by months of therapy and rehab before returning in June, but realized he hadn’t fully healed. DeLaet says he will continue rehab and strengthening and has set no timetable for his return. If he is unable to return this season, DeLaet has a major medical extension that allows for 26 more starts. “My long-term progress was the main consideration when making this decision,” said DeLaet … Coverage of the events at Royal St. George’s brought out an annoying habit by commentators and those who think of themselves as insiders. Why is it they like to say the name of their game with statements such as “What a magnificent golf shot,” or “This is a tough golf hole.” In a game such as hockey, don’t they just refer to sticks, pucks, rinks and shots without mentioning the name of the game?