British Open: Muirfield Still Ahead of the Field

After the second round of the British Open, the course at Muirfield is still leading. The first day there were a significant number of observations about the difficulty of the course set-up, but few complaints. And those who complained stood in stark contrast to the bulk of the players who all knew one thing about majors, especially the British: “It’s supposed to be hard.”

The first day’s observations and complaints stemmed from the fact that instead of the course being “hard and fast” per links setup custom, it was “very, very, hard and fast.” It was accomplished by withholding all but the barest of water to the fairways and greens. Its consequence was that it took quite a few holes for the players to figure out how far out from the green they should land their approach shots so that the ball would stop bounding and rolling somewhere near the hole. We’re not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy. 

All of this exacerbated by the undulating approaches to the greens and placing bunkers in wide depressions so that their effective size more than doubles; it was the equivalent of the ball getting caught in the swirl of a black hole. Frequently, the edge of the black hole reaches into the nearby green so that a perfectly executed shot that arrives safely on the green can be caught in the swirl and slowly and excruciatingly be sucked off of the green and into the hole.

But this is all part of the “charm” of links golf. The players all know that. They know that this is what they signed up for. But still, the quiet, low-keyed Charl Swartzel was so infuriated by the hapless outcome of one shot that he furiously flung his iron at the ground and snapped the shaft in half (thus invoking Rule 4-3b: “Damage Other Than in Normal Course of Play”).

But all of that was supposed to have changed with the new day. Having witnessed the greenskeepers syringing (watering lightly) the greens and approaches, our intrepid warriors set out to determine where the ball now had to land to end up near the pin. In some instances, the was no bouncing at all; the ball would hit just short of the green and stop.

And the wind changed direction from Thursday making the course feel like it was being playing backward; the long holes were now short and vice versa. And as the day wore on, the wind dried everything out again. For the second day in a row, the guys in the morning draw had it better than the afternoon guys.

The consequence of all of this is that only 10 of the 156 players broke par and only 15 were able to shoot Even par.

The two lowest rounds of the day were Lee Westwood and Charl Schwartzel at 3-under. That was enough to move Westwood into T2 and Schwartzel into T11. Paul Lawrie was the only player to shoot 2-under, but he was so far down the leaderboard all he managed to do was finish T70 and make the cut. The other seven players who shot under par were similarly well down the board.

But there were two players of the fifteen who shot Even par who were at the top of the leaderboard and watched as all the others fell away from them, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Tiger Woods. Jimenez finished in 1st with a one stroke lead over Woods and three others including: Lee Westwood, Henrik Stenson and Dustin Johnson. Who would have thought that Even par would end up being that good?

So that is the challenge of the ‘morrow, to suck it up, be as smart as you can, aim for the sweet spots, hit the best shot you can and take what you get with patience and good humor.

Which a pretty good rule of thumb for life too.

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