At de­layed Bri­tish Open, the wind blows and the play­ers howl

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - sally.jenk­ins@wash­post.com

three-hour rain de­lay, and he left off star­ing at putts in the nearly pitch-black night. He rose Satur­day morn­ing to shipwreck weather, with gusts of 45 mph that whipped the sand across the beach at St. An­drews, and blew his ball off a green for a bo­gey he didn’t de­serve. He then had to en­dure a 10-hour 28-minute sus­pen­sion of play while the rules mak­ers at the Royal & An­cient dithered. Here is how he dealt with it: He had a nap. He did a light work­out. He ate lunch. He had another nap.

“It’s noth­ing to worry about now,” he said. “It’s over with.”

The com­bi­na­tion of tem­pest and bore­dom made other play­ers fu­ri­ous over what they be­lieved was mis­man­age­ment by the Royal & An­cient, send­ing them on the course at 7 a.m. de­spite what ap­peared to be vis­i­bly un­playable con­di­tions. Af­ter just 32 min­utes and a se­ries of far­ci­cal scenes, such as Louis Oosthuizen watch­ing his ball role five feet across a green with­out be­ing touched by a hu­man hand, the R&A blew the horn sus­pend­ing play. In that brief time strokes were won and lost that could po­ten­tially af­fect the out­come of the tour­na­ment, which will not con­clude un­til Mon­day.

By late Satur­day af­ter­noon, the sun fi­nally came out and the wind died enough for the sec­ond round to be com­pleted. But some play­ers made their feel­ings known, au­di­bly, dur­ing the de­lay. Bubba Wat­son’s cad­die Ted Scott tweeted that “Ev­ery R&A of­fi­cial in player din­ing is get­ting yelled at. Lots of play­ers p***ed in here.”

Ian Poul­ter didn’t get mad. He got even with a se­ries of hi­lar­i­ous tweets send­ing up the R&A’s cau­tious and un­in­for­ma­tive an­nounce­ments, as they ag­o­nized on whether the wind had died enough to send play­ers back on to the course. “I have no an­nounce­ment to an­nounce of the 11 o’clock an­nounce­ment that is de­layed by 5 min­utes at the mo­ment,” he tweeted.

Jor­dan Spi­eth, the 21-year-old reign­ing Mas­ters and U.S. Open cham­pion who is seek­ing the third leg of the Grand Slam, was clearly ag­gra­vated as he played along­side John­son dur­ing their brief early-morn­ing bat­tle in the cy­clonic con­di­tions. The two men had both reached the front of the 14th hole, a 614-yard par-5, in two Fri­day night and had po­ten­tial birdie op­por­tu­ni­ties as dark­ness fell. They couldn’t see well enough to fin­ish, so they marked their balls and de­cided to sleep on the sit­u­a­tion overnight.

But on Satur­day morn­ing as Spi­eth stood over his ball it vi­brated in the wind, “wig­gled,” he said. Un­nerved, he three­p­utted for par – one of five un­char­ac­ter­is­tic three-putts for the round. He swung his put­ter like a base­ball bat in frus­tra­tion. “We should never have started,” he said as he was ush­ered off the course, a TV mi­cro­phone pick­ing up his voice. He fin­ished his round 5 un­der, five strokes back of John­son.

But no one had a right to be more up­set than John­son. He ap­peared to have a lock for birdie at 14, with just a chip shot to the flag­stick. But his shot seemed to hit an in­vis­i­ble wall as the wind stopped it, and then it banked on an up­s­lope of the green. “I chipped it, the wind kind of beat it down a lit­tle bit, and it hit the top of the hill,” he said. He stared at it in frus­tra­tion and took his ca­sual time mak­ing his way to­ward the ball to mark it. As he leaned down, the ball trem­bled. Then a gust pushed it all the way back down the hill, rolling it in re­verse like a scene from a car­toon.

“My coin was about to hit the ground when it took off,” he said.

It was a po­ten­tially cru­cial two-stroke swing, from a birdie chance to a bo­gey. An­dif John­son loses the tour­na­ment by a shot or two, it will be the fault of the R&A for send­ing him, and 39 other play­ers, into an un­playable wind at 7 a.m. for 32 min­utes that put them at an un­fair disad­van­tage and skewed their scores. As Spi­eth noted later, “We’d have been bet­ter off putting in the dark.”

The great ben­e­fi­ciary of all this could be Wil­lett. As play was about to re­sume Satur­day evening, he was prac­tic­ing on the putting green. He had com­pleted his sec­ond round on Fri­day in com­par­a­tively de­cent weather thanks to the luck of the draw, and was un­af­fected. Told that play­ers would re­take the course at 6 p.m., he joked, “I’ll be back in bed by then.”

R&A chief ex­ec­u­tive Peter Daw­son in­sisted that of­fi­cials sim­ply were tricked by the wind into a bad de­ci­sion to start play at 7 a.m. He said that orig­i­nally they deemed the course was playable, but that shortly af­ter the first balls were hit at 7 a.m. the wind in­creased by about 6 miles an hour, “and that was enough to tip it over the edge.”

But John­son said, “When they blew the horn to start, and then blew the horn to stop, to me the con­di­tions hadn’t changed at all, it was the same. I think we were all won­der­ing what was go­ing on. I know why they did it, they wanted to try to get it in, get us to play as many holes as we could.”

In the opin­ion of Paul Azinger, the for­mer player turned ESPN an­a­lyst, the real prob­lem was the R&A’s fail­ure to prop­erly pre­pare the greens given the forecast of very high winds. The stimp­me­ter, a de­vice that’s a kind of speedome­ter for putting greens, showed a read­ing of 10 for St. An­drews. Azinger be­lieved the R&A should have used some agron­omy to slow them down, tweet­ing, “If they were run­ning at 9 they’d be play­ing golf to­day.” But Daw­son re­sponded that the R&A wanted to keep the greens “at what I would call cham­pi­onship pace.”

None of it mat­tered to John­son, who showed no in­ter­est in the de­bate. What mat­tered to him was that he had re­sponded by play­ing his last four holes in 1 un­der par, to take the lead alone. “We still got a lot of golf to play,” John­son said. “It is what it is. I can’t do any­thing to change it.”

ADRIAN DENNIS/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE VIA GETTY IM­AGES

Dustin John­son fin­ishes a very rough day at St. An­drews, com­plet­ing a sec­ond-round 69 that left him one shot ahead of Danny Wil­lett.

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