ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – The grand pursuit of Jordan Spieth, redemption for Dustin Johnson, the mystery that has become Tiger Woods. It all came to a momentary halt Friday in the gloaming of St. Andrews when Tom Watson said goodbye to the British Open.
Watson, the most prolific winner of golf’s oldest championship in the last century, finished his 129th round with lights from the Royal & Ancient clubhouse illuminating the 18th green. The five-time champion made bogey. The score was irrelevant.
“There were no tears,” Watson said. “This is a joyous occasion. I have a lot of great, great memories. And those memories filled me up.”
Everything else about this wet and wild second round remained unsettled.
A heavy downpour at dawn flooded the Old Course and disrupted the start by more than three hours. Johnson and Spieth teed off shortly before 6 p.m. and were headed in different directions when it was too dark to continue.
In swift, shifting weather – umbrellas on one hole, sunglasses on the next – Johnson made three birdies in four holes on the front nine and built a two-shot lead before he made his first bogey of the tournament. He three-putted on the par-3 11th in wind so severe he had to back off a 4-foot putt and wipe his eyes.
Johnson was at 10-under par.
Spieth three-putted for bogey three times in 11 holes to offset three birdies and was five shots behind Johnson, whom he beat by one shot in the U.S. Open last month to capture the second leg of the Grand Slam.
Both were just short on the par-5 14th hole in two shots when they chose to mark their golf balls and return at 7 a.m. Saturday to resume the round.
“I’m in a good spot,” Johnson said. “Definitely got very tricky this afternoon, all day. Even the front side, the wind was howling and it was blowing straight left-to-right pretty much. It played very tough all day.”
Danny Willett of England had to cope with the wind, too, and he had a 3-under 69 to walk off the 18th green with his name atop the leaderboard at 9-under 135.
“Yeah, I think it’s a childhood dream and looking up there it’s still a little bit surreal, but something I’m going to have to get used to,” Willett said. “Otherwise, no point in being up there. We’re going to try and rest up and then try and go out for another good weekend and hopefully, we can be up there in two days’ time.”
Watson wasn’t the only player to bid farewell to the Old Course.
Nick Faldo, the three-time Open champion regarded as Britain’s greatest champion, came out of the TV tower to play St. Andrews one last time. He switched into a sweater that he wore for his first Open title in 1987 at Muirfield, thrust his arms in the air atop the Swilcan Bridge, and saved par for a 71.
And then there was Woods, headed toward the wrong kind of history. Barring a burst of birdies when he returns Saturday morning – the kind of form he has not shown in two years – he was likely to miss the cut in the U.S. Open and the British Open for the first time in the same year. Woods was 5 over with seven holes to play.
So much attention has been on Spieth and Jordan, the main characters from the drama that played out at Chambers Bay last month. Johnson had a 12-foot eagle putt on the final hole to win the U.S. Open, and three-putted to finish one shot behind golf’s new golden child.
The wind was fierce, taxing shots with every club in the bag down to the putter.
Johnson continued to hammer away with his driver, setting up birdies, and he looked every bit like the player to beat. Spieth got in enough trouble off the tee that he often left long-range putts that led to bogeys instead of birdies.
Behind them, a long list of players lined up to take their shot on the weekend.
Jason Day, in contention at Chambers Bay even though he battled symptoms of vertigo, was at 8-under par through 11 holes. Paul Lawrie, the `99 champion at Carnoustie, also was at 8 under through 12 holes. Louis Oosthuizen, who won the claret jug the last time the Open came to St. Andrews, was at 7 under through 11 holes.
Graham DeLaet of Canada sits at even-par for the tournament and is in line to make the cut.
Among those who managed to finish was Adam Scott, a former Masters champion who is starting to feel the void of giving away the British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in 2012 when he bogeyed the last four holes. Scott was in control in blustery weather, flighting his ball low and judging the bounce to perfect. He made three birdies around the loop at the far end of the course and closed with a birdie for a 67.
Scott was at 7-under 137, along with Zach Johnson (71), Marc Warren (69) and Robert Streb (71).
“The last few years at the Open has been some of my favorite golf,” Scott said. “Getting into contention at this championship and having a chance to lift the claret jug is what it’s all about. This is a great position. I’m excited for my weekend.”