The British Open: Woods poised for a weekend run; Jimenez pockets the halfway lead
East Lothian has as many golf courses as some towns might not even boast cafeterias. 21 of them line the undulating coast and the Sun has been cooking them all like a fervent baker preparing for his daughter’s wedding. Only the golfers assembled for the event could neither smell the aroma nor relish the taste as they were treated to yet another bitter day of toil around the links at Gullane. Tiger Woods impressed with a relaxed round of understated golf, but it was the turn of Miguel Angel Jimenez to own custody of the halfway lead with a collected round of 71 that left him at 3 under 139.
The conditions remained bright and sunny, with barely any wind, and the state of the deck was best summarised by a Brandt Snedeker effort at the 15th. The American had already swallowed double bogeys at the 4th and 10th and by then his 68 yesterday was a blurry memory. Bogeys at the 13th and 14th rubbed salt into his wounds, before he was finally cut open at the par-4 15th fumbling to a devastating triple bogey.
Snedeker, lying fourth overnight, needed four putts from about 18 feet from the pin as he struggled with the fiery pace of the greens. He ran long and wide, but never short as he stumbled with his putt like an amateur who stumbled on to the course with a forged credential. Another man who looks like he took to golf by mistake was Miguel Angel Jimenez.
The Spaniard with the pony tail is just as fond of his wines and cigars as he is about his time on the course. At 49, the free spirited, eccentrically dressed veteran is playing with monk like calm. Jimenez made an assured up and down putt on the final hole to sign off a 71 that was enough to give him the clubhouse lead for much of the day and all night long. Overnight leader Zach Johnson had possession of the lead at five under before he surrendered three strokes at the 14th and 15th to fall back into the trailing pack with a 75.
As Tiger pointed out at the end of a difficult first day, the players were slowly beginning to get accustomed to the fact that Muirfield wasn’t going to let them run with it. For instance, Swede Henrik Stenson has only needed a pair of 70s to sneak in almost unnoticed into the whittled down group of contenders. On Thursday, there were 20 players who were under par, and that number was down to single digits as the strain of playing the links took its toll on the players.
In a fleeting moment on Friday, it seemed as though Tiger was offering a preview to what might transpire on Sunday. The American raised his putter towards the sky after sinking a 15 footer for birdie at the 18th and the gravity of his gesture was difficult to miss. At the end of one of the most assured rounds of golf played by Tiger in recent years, it was plainly obvious that Woods was back in the kind of form that brought him laurels in the past.
Woods had to settle for an even par 71, but after going through 12 holes without a birdie, the flourish at the 18th was the kind of fuel that could spur the man into a glorious march through the weekend. “It will be a fun weekend,” predicted a confident Woods. “This golf course is going to be difficult.”
Just last year, Rory McIlroy and Luke Donald were contesting for the top ranking in golf. This weekend they might find themselves fighting for that last seat on an unscheduled flight out of Scotland. McIlroy needed a miracle after that first round 79, but only found more misery when he returned to the course this morning. Donald’s experience wasn’t too different in taste, following through the 80 with a 73 to knock himself out cold.
Rolling from bunker to bunker, McIlroy was already four over through the first seven holes, after making the third double bogey in two days. The cut is for the top 70 and ties, projected to be around 8 over after the second round. The Irishman though didn’t really need to wait – his 12 over score of 154 guaranteed him a quiet weekend filled with loneliness and introspection.
The 2011 champion Darren Clarke threatened briefly, making four birdies on his way out. Apparently, the course was too annoyed by Clarke’s insolence – she extracted a quadruple bogey from Clarke at the 8th hole to disrobe the former champion of his pretences. The 40 year Lee Westwood showed he still had the fire, pulling all stops to score a 68 that helped him back into the conversation for the weekend.
Englishmen Matthew Fitzpatrick and Jimmy Mullen were the only amateurs to likely make the cut, with both straddling the edge at 7 over 149. India’s Shiv Kapur was brought back to the turf with a 77 that dropped him to 3 over going into the weekend.
The stage is set for a thrilling weekend – there are as many as four golfers snapping on the coat tails of Jimenez, bunched up at two under 140 through 36 holes. Another four are a shot behind this bunch at 1 under 141.
-3 Miguel Angel Jimenez
-2 Henrik Stenson, Lee Westwood, Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson
-1 Martin Laird, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Zach Johnson, Angel Cabrera
Par Ryan Moore
3 Shiv Kapur, Mark O’Meara
6 Sergio Garcia, Ernie Els (Defending Champion)