Spi­eth takes 2-shot lead into week­end play

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - SOUTHPORT, ENGLAND —

It was a scene re­peated time and again Fri­day as winds off the Ir­ish Sea whipped across Royal Birk­dale, buf­fet­ing the Bri­tish Open grand­stands and turn­ing would-be solid shots into physics-de­fy­ing ba­nana balls. A player would hit his tee shot, watch it bend vig­or­ously to the right or left, then shoot his arm out to the side to warn spec­ta­tors a ball was com­ing their way.

With gusts of 30-plus mph, and sheets of rain in the late af­ter­noon, the tour­na­ment’s sec­ond round was closer to round fore.

Jordan Spi­eth shot a one-un­der­par 69 to hang on to what had been a three-way tie for the lead when the day be­gan. He is at six un­der, two strokes bet­ter than fel­low Amer­i­can Matt Kuchar. Brooks Koepka and Ian Poul­ter are tied for third at three un­der head­ing into the week­end.

Spi­eth, who played in the af­ter­noon, said he was “very sat­is­fied” to be lead­ing at this point and he would have gladly stayed on the couch and ac­cepted even par if he could have. He wound up do­ing one bet­ter.

“Not on the good end of the draw, but we seem to have grinded it out,” he said. “I don’t know if we’d be in any bet­ter score if I was on the other side of the draw. You just don’t know where your breaks fall and where they don’t.”

There were 39 play­ers un­der par to be­gin the day, and just nine to end it. Ten play­ers fin­ished Fri­day at even par. Play was sus­pended for 10 min­utes at 5:30 p.m. lo­cal time be­cause of heavy rain.

“A good day to sit at home and watch a movie,” said Amer­i­can Kevin Na, whose 68 and 75 put him at three over in a field where the cut was five over.

Scots­man Martin Laird, whose score bal­looned from 68 on Thurs­day to 79 on Fri­day, missed the cut.

“With this wind,” he said, “this golf course is just a beast.”

Some­how, Kuchar tamed the beast — or at least sur­vived it. He was in a three-way tie for first at five un­der af­ter the open­ing round, then took a baby step back­ward with a one-over 71 in the sec­ond, fin­ish­ing his round by midday be­fore the re­ally nasty stuff in the af­ter­noon, when at times spec­ta­tors had to hold their um­brel­las side­ways to stay dry.

“I think that’s one of the cool things over here, whether it’s Thurs­day or Fri­day, what­ever your morn­ing round is, get­ting to go back to the room, put on the TV and watch the guys play in the af­ter­noon, and par­tic­u­larly in tough

con­di­tions,” said Kuchar, who twice dropped to six un­der Fri­day but gave those strokes back with bo­geys.

“What stood out to me was the 12th hole, it was a par-three,” Kuchar said. “I think it was play­ing about 162 yards to­day. Wind was in off the left. I pulled a five-iron. And there’s a hill right of the green with nasty, weedy grass that you just don’t want to be in. So I must have aimed 30 yards left of the pin into the crowd, hit a shot, started at the crowd, and stayed at the crowd for a long time be­fore fi­nally the last, I’d say, 20 yards started drift­ing over, and ended up in the mid­dle of the green.” Two putts, and par. Not ev­ery­one was able to com­pen­sate for the wind with such aplomb. There were the rare ex­cep­tions, such as Zach John­son shoot­ing a 66, but there were blue (bo­gey) and dark blue (dou­ble bo­gey) num­bers all over the score­board. Phil Mick­el­son, look­ing to scram­ble back af­ter a dis­ap­point­ing open­ing round, went birdie, par, triple-bo­gey, birdie — un­der­scor­ing the spin-the-wheel ran­dom­ness of the day — be­fore his round un­rav­eled with six bo­geys on the back nine.

“It’s just one of those things where if it starts go­ing bad in th­ese con­di­tions, it’s just go­ing to go bad,” said Mick­el­son, who fin­ished at 10 over for the tour­na­ment and missed the cut. “It’s not that big a deal. Un­for­tu­nately, it’s the first cut I’ve missed this year and I missed it with flair.”

North­ern Ire­land’s Rory McIl­roy, who won the Bri­tish Open in 2014, was crash­ing in spec­tac­u­lar fash­ion Thurs­day when he opened by bo­gey­ing five of the first six holes. He climbed back, though, with four birdies on the back nine to fin­ish at one over.

A turn­ing point came af­ter the sixth hole, when McIl­roy’s caddy, J.P. Fitzger­ald, spoke up. “You’re Rory McIl­roy! What the ... are you do­ing?”

“I said, ‘Yeah,’ “McIl­roy said. “At that point I mum­bled and said, ‘What­ever.’ But it did, it helped. It def­i­nitely helped. It kept me pos­i­tive. So he did a great job.”

On Fri­day, he looked like the old McIl­roy again, with birdies on three of the first six holes.

Poul­ter fin­ished sec­ond in the Open here in 2008 but has not won a tour­na­ment since 2012 and nearly lost his PGA Tour card this year. He was side­lined for four months with a foot in­jury last year.

The English­man shot even par Fri­day to put him near the top of the leader­board at three un­der, and the fans showed their ap­pre­ci­a­tion.

“It feels ab­so­lutely mar­velous, it re­ally does,” he said. “Walk­ing up 18, just walk­ing from greens to tees was re­ally pretty spe­cial to­day. Huge galleries and they were re­ally pulling for me. So it was re­ally nice to be in po­si­tion ... “


England’s Richard Bland and his cad­die shel­ter un­der an um­brella on the 8th fair­way. SAM FARMER


Rory McIl­roy of North­ern Ire­land hits his sec­ond shot from the rough on the 13th hole Fri­day.


Jordan Spi­eth and his um­brella hold a two-stroke lead head­ing into the third round.


Canada’s Austin Con­nelly is right in the mix, still tied for sixth

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