Jason Day cobbled together a brilliant second round in the Open Championship today in the worst playing conditions he has ever seen “by far”, but thanks to the vagaries of links golf and Scottish weather, extracted virtually nothing for it.
Day, the world No.1, was trapped in a fierce afternoon squall that sent most players tumbling down the leaderboard at Troon, but managed to hold on and shoot the only sub-par round of the later players, a one-under 70.
It was a vast improvement on his opening-round 73 in the circumstances, yet when he wakes tomorrow morning, the Queenslander will confront an 11-shot gap to the midway leader, Phil Mickelson, who is 10-under after adding a 69 to his remarkable Thursday 63.
Six Australians made the cut, with Adam Scott and Matt Jones at even-par in equal-27th place the closest of them. Eight of the 11 were caught with the worst of the draw, playing in the afternoon when the squall hit, including several, like Jones, Nathan Holman and Rod Pampling, who were still at the start of their rounds when it swept across the course.
Day had to wait until after 2pm to hit off and, by the time he did, Phil Mickelson had opened a 13-shot advantage on him, the leader having played early and signed for a 69. After a bogey at the first, Day rattled off four birdies in five holes in a hot front nine, but by the time he reached the par-four 13th hole, the wind was blowing at more than 50 km/h, balls were oscillating on the greens and it was difficult for the players to stand up.
“It was frustrating,” he said afterwards.
“I was looking over at the rules official going, `Are we going on?'.
“He said, `Unfortunately, we've got to keep pushing on’. I was like, `There's lightning over there!’.
“We totally expected conditions that were going to be difficult, but not to the point where it was blowing 30 to 40 miles and hour with rain coming in sideways. I think I went through four gloves during that little time span.”
Asked if that stretch of weather was the worst he had played in, he said: “By far. I played at Royal St. Georges going back a few years and it felt like the rain was coming up underneath the umbrella. But that was – for the little time span we had of that – pretty atrocious.”
Somehow, he hung on through this stretch, aiming way left of the target and scrambling pars with a flop shot at the 14th and a chip and putt at the15th, and the weather pattern changed for the last couple of holes.
He had a great chance for a birdie at the last, but had to be content with par. “Obviously I'm sitting here 11 (shots) back, and that sounds like a long way back, but you just never know how things go,” he said.
“Once again, I've got to keep a positive attitude.”
Scott never looked like making a run, eventually signing for 73, two-over, despite being one of the Australians who was on the best side of the draw.
“You know, if I had shot even par I wouldn't be too disappointed, but to lose a couple wasn't really the plan,” he said.
“Look, I think the first two rounds are in the bag and I'm obviously a fair way behind. I think I've just got to relax and have some fun on the weekend and hopefully get some momentum going.
“It's been a bit of a year for me in the majors where I've just not got the momentum happening. A hot front nine could change that tomorrow.”
Scott Hend was also caught in the wild weather, limping home in 40 to finish +1 after a 73 that looked to have been anything when he made four early birdies and charged to T6 at four under.
Matt Jones began the day at two-under and immediately gave back those shots with a double bogey at the first, but the New South Welshman was admirable in his ability to scrap out a 73 in the afternoon. The same could be said for Victorian Marc Leishman, who missed the worst squall late in the day but still played in a lot of the afternoon weather, carding a two-under 69 to be one-over through two rounds.
“I'm happy. It was a good day,” Leishman said.
“It was really, really tough early on with that rain and wind. Then it died a little bit when the rain stopped and it got up again towards the end, and pretty much every hole on the back nine there was straight off the left. That's a tough wind for a right-hander. I played really well, gave myself a lot of chances.”
Ironically Leishman was in an almost identical position at St Andrews last year, narrowly making the cut before firing with 64-66 on the weekend to get into a playoff. It is a memory that he will draw upon tomorrow, too.
“I'd like to do what I did last year and put a low one out there on Saturday and try and get myself within distance of the leaders. At the moment I'm a long way back, but probably – at three-over after the first round, and then to play in these conditions and shoot under par – I'm really happy.
“There's just nothing to lose. You can't win The Open if you're sitting at home on the couch on Saturday and Sunday. You just have to get there and then, obviously, I'm in a pretty similar position as I was last year, a long way back. (I’ve got) nothing really to lose, so I'll probably play a little more aggressive, but still conservative aggression. You don't want to do anything stupid.”
Marcus Fraser (five over) Nick Cullen (eight over) and Steven Bowditch (15 over) all missed the cut, while Rod Pampling missed a par putt at the last that would have got him into the weekend play, and rookie Nathan Holman finished in near darkness at 9pm, six-over in his first Open.
The young Victorian was undone by a triple-bogey at the Postage Stamp in the height of the bad weather.
“I was unlucky to get such a late tee time today and the rain and the wind,” Holman, 25, said.
“But it was a great experience.”