Warren at the sharp end as he soaks up pressure
Five-time champion Watson bows out of the Open Championship
Early-starter storms up the leaderboard
ON a day of delays and disruption in the weather-hit 144th Open Championship at St Andrews, Marc Warren declared that he is ready for a weekend assault on the Claret Jug after the Scot tucked himself in among the clubhouse frontrunners.
As torrential rain forced an early suspension of over three hours in the morning, play went on until darkness brought a halt to proceedings last night with a host of players still needing to complete their second rounds this morning.
That number included the championship leader Dustin Johnson, who was 10-under through 13 holes, Paul Lawrie, two further back after 12, and Jordan Spieth, who was five-under with five to play. In the near darkness, meanwhile, Tom Watson completed an emotional swansong in a championship he has won five times and enjoyed a final wave on the Swilcan Bridge despite the gathering gloom.
At the head of the standings, Warren was among the fortunate early starters who completed their second rounds on schedule and the 34-year-old Glasgow man maintained his push at the sharp end of affairs with a three-under 69 for a seven-under aggregate of 137 which left him two behind clubhouse leader, Danny Willett.
“I’ve got absolutely nothing to lose this weekend,” stated Warren, a threetime winner on the European Tour who is playing in only his third Open Championship. “I’m just enjoying the situation I’m in. I know it’s very early days as far as the tournament goes but I’m really relishing the opportunity ahead of me this weekend.”
In last year’s championship at Hoylake, Royal & Ancient officials introduced a two-tee start during the third for the first time in the event’s history as a precautionary measure due to the menace of a looming storm.
But Peter Dawson, the chief executive of the R&A, stated that they would not be employing that tactic this week in an effort to make up for lost time. Play in the remaining matches of the second round was set to resume this morning at 7am with the third round being contested in a three-ball format.
“We do have the ability to go into Monday but we certainly hope not to,” said Dawson, who is overseeing his final Open Championship before his retirement.
Sir Nick Faldo, the Open champion at St Andrews in 1990, marked his final appearance in the championship at the Old Course with a spirited 71 that included a birdie on the treacherous Road Hole 17th.
Faldo, who missed the cut after an opening 83 and still has an exemption for another two years, almost withdrew ahead of his second round with a bewildering injury after he impaled his finger on the antler of a wall-mounted deer head while taking his shirt off in his room.
“My cut was open again in the morning, so I went back to the hospital and had it glued again and I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” said Faldo, who arrived back at St Andrews just 45 minutes before his tee-time.
“My kids looked at me and said, ‘Dad, what are we doing?’ And I said, I don’t know. They said, ‘I think you should go.’ When your kids say you’re going, you’re going, aren’t you? That was the goal, to stand on that bridge and get that picture.”
HE had already pretty much conceded the day to Old Father Time but there was one last race against the clock for Tom Watson in St Andrews last night.
In many ways it was typical it turned out that way because for all that he has long been among the all-time greats of any sport, let alone golf, its home town has never been as welcoming to him as it might have been.
Unique among modern Scottish Open venues in not having the five time champion on its roll of honour the Old Course is a place at which he twice contended and twice failed.
In 1978 he went out in the final group only to fall out of contention before the turn as Jack Nicklaus gained a form of revenge for the previous year’s defeat in the ‘Duel in the Sun’, while six years later he had to give way on the day Seve Ballesteros struck his iconic pose on the 18th green.
Had all gone to plan this time he would have arrived on the 18th hole in early evening with the grandstands still packed and vast galleries in pursuit.
The Old Course is a capricious old girl, however, who does not like to be taken for granted and so she had the final say, or at least the elements that created her did, as much of the morning’s play was washed away.
So, instead of 1.34pm he set off instead at 4.48pm. With 10.47pm the official time for sunset in St Andrews last night and rounds taking around five hours the arithmetic immediately demonstrated that this was to be a different sort of finish to that anticipated. Either it would be the latest of finishes or he would have to make a ridiculously early Saturday start. A potential anti-climax either way.
It began pretty much as Watson had intended as he hid a gift for starter Ivor Robson, also taking part in his last Open, behind his back before presenting it to him on the tee in a touching exchange.
After a suitably warm welcome for both his arrival on that tee and his opening drive he set off and, soon afterwards, there was another poignant encounter as a wayward drive, not his but that of fellow multiple Open champion Nick Faldo, gave them a chance to shake hands as their paths crossed at the 16th and third holes.
It was a day Faldo had once suggested might have been his last at the Open before changing his mind and he may have another re-think after performing as he did, closing with a sub-par round to ease the pain of the 83 he registered the previous day and the visit he paid to hospital to have a cut hand treated ahead of the round.
In pure golfing terms it was to be a rather more tortuous evening for Watson.
The emotion was bound to overcome him such was the reception he received as he arrived at every tee and walked down every fairway and a three putt at the first was a sign of what was to come.
He battled manfully to drop only one more by the turn and there were birdie chances at both the ninth and 10th, but there were tears in his eyes as a spontaneous standing ovation from a packed grandstand greeted him on the 11th tee and that, followed by a long wait, with two groups already waiting there, perhaps sapped the last of his energy.
Since he had said earlier in the week that in close to 40 years of visiting he had never worked out how to play the 12th hole, there was a look of resignation on his face even as spectators shouted ‘great shot’ as his drive looked to be perfectly down the middle and, almost inevitably, it found a fairway bunker.
Following the resultant bogey he salvaged one last par at the 13th before bogeying every remaining hole to finish dead last in the field.
Yet, in that final contest, he claimed his victory because he made it to the 18th hole with just enough light for those historic photographs to be taken and many who love their golf, shared the moment with him.
As dusk gave way to darkness on a mid-summer Scottish evening it was a fitting finish for this greatest of links golfers.
TWILIGHT ZONE: Watson stops to pose on the iconic Swilcan Bridge on the 18th hole of the Old Course at St Andrews in his final Open Championship.
TAKE A BOW: Tom Watson says goodbye on the eighteenth green last night