ST. ANDREWS, Scotland, (Reuters) – St. Andrews bared its teeth on Friday as brutal winds scattered the British Open field, leaving early starter Louis Oosthuizen to emerge from the wreckage with an astonishing five-shot lead.
Oosthuizen’s second-round 67, which took him to 12 under 132, looked a testing target when the 27-year-old South African finished at lunchtime but Mother Nature whipped up a gale which halted play for an hour and left his lead looking more impregnable with every 40mph gust.
Tiger Woods, who went within inches of a showstopping hole- in-one at the 18th, clung on at four under, Rory McIlroy collapsed from a record 63 to an 80 and St. Andrews bade farewell to one of its favourite sons as Tom Watson missed the cut.
When the hooter sounded at 21:45 local time, 10 groups were yet to complete their rounds and must resume at 06:30 on Saturday with the projected cut at two over.
Oosthuizen, who missed the cut in all three previous Opens he contested and has one European Tour win to his name, was expected to be swallowed up by the field on Friday but he was having none of it.
With the day’s best weather and an elegant swing to match, Oosthuizen fired seven birdies and two bogeys and is poised to take the biggest halfway lead at the Open since American Bobby Clampett in 1982.
“I’m very confident the way I’m playing,” said Oosthuizen, nicknamed Shrek by his friends. “I’m okay with anyone waking up and seeing my name on the top.”
He led by five from 1989 champion Mark Calcavecchia (67), who struck the first tee shot of the day in what turned out to be the best conditions, and by six from three Englishmen — Paul Casey, Lee Westwood and Steve Tiley, who has eight holes left.
“I’m hitting it well,” Oosthuizen told reporters. “I’m just having a lot of fun.”
Fun it certainly was not for McIlroy.
On Thursday, after setting the Old Course alight with a record 63, he said he did not mind what the weather was like yesterday as long as it was dry.
Well, it was dry alright but unsettling wind soon brought the 21-year-old Northern Irishman back to earth. He fired nine birdies on Thursday and the course took all but one of them back yesterday, his birdie-free round of 80 leaving him on one under.
“It was a lot of ups and downs, more downs than ups today,” he said.
Woods had barely started his round when Royal and Ancient officials deemed enough was enough and sounded the hooter to prompt a 65-minute suspension of play because of the high winds buffeting the famed Fife links.
The break found Woods in playful mood, sharing smoked almonds with his playing partners, but the interruption did his game little good.
He opened bogey-bogey and gritted his teeth through the remainder of a tough round, firing a one-over 73 which he described as his best of the year.
“I’m eight back and today was a day I could have easily shot myself out of the tournament, especially the start I got off to, but I put it back together again and pieced together a pretty good round,” said the world number one.
‘I LOVE YOU’
Just as Woods was preparing for an eagle putt after his astonishing drive at the 18th, emotional scenes were developing back at the tee. Watson, in his last Open at St Andrews and certain to miss the cut, kissed the Swilcan Bridge and mouthed: “I love you” to the crowd as he bid farewell, his face illuminated by the myriad of camera flashes in the fading Scottish dusk.
After Woods putted out for birdie, Watson was greeted by thunderous applause as fans lined the 18th fairway.
The 60-year-old American did not disappoint. With a flick of the wrists he sent his second to within an inch of the cup for a certain birdie.
Watson holed out before shaking every official’s hand, offering a few quiet words of advice to playing partner Ryo Ishikawa and retiring to the scorer’s hut one final time here.
“I thought of Arnold (Palmer) on the bridge, I thought of Jack (Nicklaus) on the bridge, and their last Opens were both right here at St Andrews. My last Open is not right here, the good Lord willing,” said Watson.
When Casey and Westwood trudged off the course during the soggy early conditions, they could little have expected they would end the day in a share for third place.
“I played a lot better than my score suggests,” said Westwood, who fired 17 pars and a solitary birdie at the fifth.
Casey struck a superlative outward five under 31 and looked set to run Oosthuizen close until calamity struck at the revered 17th ‘Road’ hole.
His tee shot found the left-hand rough and he needed two slashes to get it clear of the thick gorse. He went on to triple-bogey but a birdie at the last salvaged his day.
“I wanted to go straight sideways but couldn’t go at it too hard because if I went at it too hard and it came out, I could end up in Room 312 (of the Old Course Hotel),” said Casey.
A cluster of seven players were in the clubhouse on five under including 1996 winner Tom Lehman, U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell and Spain’s Miguel Angel Jimenez.