THE R&A pulled a fast one to beat Mother Nature on the same day 12 months ago.
By implementing the first two-tee start in Open Championship history, it got play finished minutes before Royal Liverpool was hit with an almighty deluge. Well, she’s taken her revenge. Friday’s rain, which caused a three-and-a-quarter hour suspension, was just some playful teasing. She had some wind up her sleeve to really wreak havoc. In doing so, the 144th staging of the world’s oldest major will see the event finish on a Monday for only the second time.
It’s the third major in a row on the Old Course that has been affected by bad weather. Play was halted on the second day in this event in 2010 when golf balls started to oscillate on the greens. The same thing happened in the third round of the Ricoh Women’s British Open two years ago. As was the case on those occasions, this was frustrating. Blustery conditions, though, are part and parcel of Scottish life and those coming out with the guff yesterday along the lines of “we’ve played in worse than this” were failing to take some fairly important points into consideration.
Majors can’t be turned into farces, even though the USGA did a pretty good job in that respect with the US Open at Chambers Bay last month. While the R&A may have deemed it to be the case at 7am yesterday morning, it quickly became apparent that the course was unplayable. The action was suspended after just 32 minutes, though even that was long enough for the event’s organisers to make themselves unpopular with some of the competitors.
Jordan Spieth, the Grand Slam-chasing world No 2, was heard on TV expressing his displeasure. “We shouldn’t have been out there in the first place,” he remarked to an official when the hooter sounded. One of his playing partners, Dustin Johnson, dropped a shot in the short time they were out. It lost him the outright lead before he regained it later. In the final reckoning, howeverm it could cost him a first major.
“We spent an hour at the far end of the course, before play started, assessing whether the course was playable,” said the R&A in the first of several weather statements during the course of the day. “Balls were moving on the greens and while the conditions were extremely difficult, we considered the golf course to be playable. Gusts of wind increased in speed by 10-15 per cent after play resumed. This could not be foreseen at the time that play was restarted and made a material difference to the playability of the golf course.”
Johnson discovered that to his cost when his third shot at the par-5 14th blew back off the green and ended up almost where it had started. South African Louis Oosthuizen, the winner here in 2010, marked his ball on the 13th green, replaced it only to see it blow away. “Got lucky, then unlucky,” he wrote on Twitter later. “My golf ball was first blown closer to one foot then further to six feet.”
In hindsight, it was a mistake to start play. In fairness to the R&A, however, that was the only one on what was an incredibly trying day. For hour after hour, fans sat in the giant grandstands around the course. Others killed time by either plonking themselves down on spots like the Himalayas putting green for a snooze. The thirsty ones filled the pubs close to the course, the tills in places like the Dunvegan Hotel and One Golf Place - though One Nike Place for this week - ringing merrily as one planned restart after another failed to materialise.
The frustration was palpable yet the real golf fans understood the situation. Yes, the game can be played in windy conditions and often is in this country. But, when it starts gusting as it was yesterday, getting up to 40mph at times, then it’s a different matter. The holes at the far end of the Old Course - the 11th and 12th in particular - are very exposed. It doesn’t take much wind at all for oscillation to become a danger there. Also factor in the greens for an event like the Open Championship being shaved to create silk-like surfaces and what happened yesterday wasn’t exactly unexpected. It was 6pm before the winds relented to allow play to restart. Even then, trouser bottoms were flapping and players found themselves standing tentatively over putts in fear of their golf ball moving. It was probably the reason that Lee Westwood and Charl Schwartzel missed short ones soon after the resumption. Paul Lawrie was in danger of being on that list, but the 1999 winner held his nerve to hole testing par putts at both the 15th and 17th.
Spieth played a lovely low punch into the 16th; Johnson likewise from the left rough to find the green at the Road Hole and make a good par. Spieth bogeyed it to fall back to four-under. Both Americans drove the last and birdied it. Johnson’s 69 for ten-under 134 nudged him one ahead of Englishman Danny Willett, who’d been tucked up in his hotel room all day. Lawrie is on eight-under after he finished with a 70.
The event’s first Monday finish since Seve Ballesteros claimed the last of his three wins at Royal Lytham in 1988 will hit the R&A hard in the pocket. People who bought a daily ticket at £80 yesterday will get a 60 per cent refund as well as a full refund for parking. An adult ticket for tomorrow’s final round has been set at £10. The cost of staging an extra day will be significant. “It has been a tough and frustrating day for everyone,” admitted Peter Dawson, who is overseeing his final Open as the R&A’s chief executive. “But there is nothing in the weather forecast to give us any more problems - hopefully not famous last words - and we will return to normal Open mode, although crowning the Champion Golfer of the Year a day later than normal.”