Sandwich survivors prepare for savage battle
They've survived the shipwreck. Now those left clinging to the liferafts have got to weather the storm.
The notoriously tricky Royal St George's discarded a host of big names, including the world's top two players, on Friday. Luke Donald and Lee Westwood were among the casualties on a splendid, but savage, summer's day at Sandwich. But now the ante is being upped.
The forecast for Saturday is for heavy rain and 20-25mph winds, gusting to 35mph. Similar for Sunday.
The rain's not too bad. It rains all over the world. But add the wind and a course that yielded just 22 rounds under par in the sunshine - and 18 players below par at halfway - becomes a mind-twister. Like trying to play bagatelle on the deck of a heaving ship.
Saturday might traditionally be dubbed "Moving Day" as players make their charge, but "Shake It All About Day" might be more apt.
Fierce winds and a drying sun at St Andrews last year forced play to be suspended for more than an hour because balls were moving on the greens. Rory McIlroy was the biggest casualty, and after an opening 63, he returned a second-round 80. This year the new US Open champion is still very much in the hunt at halfway - four behind leaders Darren Clarke and Lucas Glover.
Darren Clarke is aiming to improve on his best Open finish of second in 1997. Picture: Getty
But irrespective of the forecast, the eye is drawn to the name of old-stager Clarke at the top of the leaderboard. The 41-year-old is enjoying a renaissance and providing another good Open story. He was second in 1997 and third in 2001 and convention would suggest a Northern Irishman thrives in bad weather.
"I believe the forecast for the weekend is very, very poor, which I quite look forward to," he said. "I've been doing a lot of practising in bad weather because that's usually what we get at Portrush. Hopefully it will stand me in good stead.
"But the course is going to play very, very tough. If that's the case, then the tournament is still wide open for an awful lot of players."
Old adages don't always work out, of course. Take Clarke's countryman Graeme McDowell, for example.
"Theoretically, it should be good for him but people always say I love bad weather, but I don't," said McDowell. Last year's US Open champion doesn't need to worry - he also fell foul of St George's on Friday.
But Clarke won't have the monopoly on rain suit and umbrella skills. "If the rain and the wind comes in then it's a battle," said Kaymer. "I'm prepared for some mental strength out there."
Even Phil Mickelson - not noted for toughing it out on a wind-ravaged links - has been talking up his appetite for a fight. "Historically, I've not played great in windy conditions and rain but I welcome the challenge," said the Californian.
Royal St George's head pro Andrew Brooks said at the start of the week that the winning score was likely to be around par and five-time champion Tom Watson concurred on Friday.
"They're not going to be screaming under par. It is a difficult golf course, but the conditions are going to make it super difficult the next two days," said Watson.
Four-time major champion Mickelson, still searching for a first Open win, says he enjoys trying to solve the links puzzle but lamented the set-up this week.
"The hard holes have fair, easy pin placements and the easy holes have ridiculously hard pin placements so we don't see many birdies other than maybe on the par fives," he said.
So is a war of attrition good to watch? Well, it depends on your taste.
But the nature of the challenge of a links course always catches some players pleasantly by surprise.
"I heard one of the players I played with in a practice round today say, 'links golf, I love it'" said Watson. "All we do all year is just play yardage, ball, air, flag, yardage. Here you get the yardage but then you start thinking, 'what do you do?' 'How am I going to get there? Where do I get this ball where I want it to go?' Sometimes you just can't get it there."
That last line might be the problem on Saturday. But as always, it's the same for everyone. Dig deep, and Sandwich may not seem so savage after all.