TODAY marks the 250th anniversary of the Old Course at St Andrews becoming golf’s standard setter as an 18-hole layout. With rounds in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship taking close to six hours, perhaps more than just four holes should have been trimmed from the original layout in the Auld Grey Toun.
“It’s quite tough to stay warm when you’re out there for five hours and 45 minutes and also to keep your concentration as well,” admitted Stephen Gallacher after completing his second round at Kingsbarns on a day when the weather didn’t turn out to be nearly as bad as had been forecast.
“I woke up this morning and thought I was going to be playing in an Armageddon,” confessed Chris Doak of hearing that Mother Nature was set to unleash gusts of up to 40mph, while Richie Ramsay had been expecting an “absolute battle” after he’d been up in the middle of the night and heard the “wind hitting the trees”. It was wet at times. Very wet, in fact. “But it wasn’t actually that bad and it got quite easy towards the end,” reported Shane Lowry.
All four players were speaking after nudging themselves into contention at the halfway stage in the £3 million event. Frenchman Raphael Jacquelin leads on nine-under, one ahead of compatriot Alexander Levy, Englishman Oliver Wilson and two Irishmen, Lowry and Padraig Harrington.
Ramsay and Doak are a stroke further back alongside American Ryan Palmer, with Gallacher in a group on six-under.
Pleased to have finished with a birdie as he signed for a four-under-par 68 at Kingsbarns, Ramsay added to his collection of Ryder Cup memorabilia following last week’s event at Gleneagles and has his sights set on making the next match. It, of course, is at Hazeltine, where the Aberdonian won the US Amateur Championship in 2006.
“I was at the Ryder Cup on Friday, which was brilliant,” said Ramsay, who has finished in the top 20 in his last four events and, sitting 63rd, is close to securing his spot in the European Tour ‘Final Series’ despite missing the first two months of the season through injury.
“I still have a Hazeltine headcover and I got a nice little Ryder Cup one from Jimmy [Fitzgerald], Paul McGinley’s caddie. It is good to have something like that. Because that is where you want to get to and it is great to have a goal.”
Doak’s immediate goal is to climb five spots from 115th on the money-list to secure his card for another season. Finishing 20th here did the trick 12 months ago and, on the evidence of the opening two days this time around, the 36-year-old is enjoying a baby bounce.
Two weeks ago, he dashed away from Celtic Manor, where the Livingston-based player failed to return his scorecard in the opening round of the Wales Open, and just got him in time to be with his wife, Laura, at the birth of their daughter, Eva.
“Golf is not the most important thing anymore – it’s my wife and family now and I’ve got a picture of Eva on my phone that I just need to look at to calm down,” declared Doak after also playing at Kingsbarns, where he signed for six birdies. “I’m more chilled now and feel as though I can just go out and play and see what happens instead of trying to push it.”
Eleven out of the top 12 – Lowry, who heads for Carnoustie, is the odd man out – are in action at St Andrews today. Normally, that would suggest they have cracked it with the draw, but the Old Course is proving a tough nut to crack this week, as was evidenced by 67 being the best score there yesterday.
“I’ll tell you Monday,” replied Gallacher to being asked if the prospect of now playing two rounds back-to-back on the Old Course put him in an advantageous position heading into the weekend. “It could be hell in there tomorrow. I think we’ve all had rain, we’ve all had wind. We’ve all had tough courses so far.”
It’s down to the quality of those courses that he’s here and not sitting with his feet up at home after a draining Ryder Cup debut. Having the leader in his sights is a bonus as the 39-year-old bids to repeat his 2004 win in the event. “Being in contention gives you the impetus to keep going,” admitted Gallacher.
Twelve years after claiming the title, too, Harrington is back in contention after backing up his opening 66 at Carnoustie with a battling 70 at Kingsbarns, where Jacquelin, a four-times European Tour winner, birdied the last two holes to break free at the top of the leaderboard.
Of the three other Ryder Cup players in the field, Jacquelin’s countryman, Victor Dubuisson, is on four-under alongside Rory McIlroy, with Martin Kaymer bringing up the rear on two-over – four behind his captain at Gleneagles, Paul McGinley.
Having admitted to feeling “flat” as he opened with a 73 at Carnoustie, McIlroy was back looking more like himself as the world No 1 shot a 67 at Kingsbarns, the highlight of which was an eagle at the 16th after starting at the tenth.
“Once I got that and got myself back to even par, I felt like if I could get myself to four or five under par for the tournament, then I’d at least have a chance going into the weekend,” said the Open champion. “Now, I’ve got hopefully two good days ahead of me at St Andrews, a golf course I’ve done well at before and one of my favourites.”