British Open 2010: Wind at St. Andrews wreaks havoc on leader board

South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen, 27, is no longer a no-name after his dominant, seven-stroke victory at St. Andrews.
By Sally Jenkins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 17, 2010

ST. ANDREWS, SCOTLAND Royal and Ancient officials had charming expressions for what the wind did to the British Open. When it started to gale they said it was "freshening," from the "westerly" direction. When it threatened to blow balls off the greens, they called it "oscillating." Such courtly language hardly described what was happening to players' pants legs and scorecards. Not to mention their heads.

They stood on the tees and the greens of St. Andrews trying to keep their minds still while a giant invisible hand from the sky shoved them sideways. Players flinched on short putts, backed off their tee shots, and stared balefully at the flagsticks, which bent sideways until they were almost parallel to the ground.

The crosswinds blew a young genius, Rory McIlroy, almost out of contention with an 80, and lofted a far less renowned player, who has made just one cut in a major, Lodewicus Theodorus Oosthuizen, to the top of the leader board. One teed off early and got rain, but no wind. The other teed off late and got wind, but no rain. Think that was unfair? Handle it. They had to.

Wind is an inescapable part of the British Open at St. Andrews, and so is luck when it comes to morning and afternoon tee times. The trick for the contenders was to not get too upset about it. Those who fared best in the gusts of 35 to 40 mph were those who didn't let the bluster completely rob them of their composure, those who were content just to survive and not shoot themselves out of it.

Here's how bedeviling and capricious the conditions were. As Tom Lehman described his round of 68, "We went out with the wind helping the first six or seven holes, then it laid down a bit, then it switched directions and from 12 onward, there was a right-to-left wind helping, which makes it way, way easier than the one that comes in your face."

The unfortunates who got the afternoon gusts in their face did well to remember that they had been the fortunate ones on Thursday, when they benefited from morning tee times. They caught St. Andrews so perfectly still and downy soft that it yielded record-low numbers. Among those who understood these vagaries were a couple of deeply experienced British players, Lee Westwood and Paul Casey, whose Friday scores of 71 and 69, respectively, put them in a tie for third at 6-under-par 138.

"All you really ask for [as] a golfer playing in the Open is a bit of parity, really," Westwood said. "I don't know how much harder the afternoon was yesterday than the morning; somewhere probably between two or three shots. If the afternoon today plays two or three shots harder than the morning, that's all you can ask for."

Or as Casey said more simply, "It's about hanging around."

Phil Mickelson was undone by his own attitude -- he couldn't quite get over his resentment at catching the wrong tee times. He watched others tear up the course Thursday morning, but by the time he teed off after lunch, the wind kicked up. As he put it, "A good round in the morning was probably 6 under par, and when we teed off, a good round was probably 2 or 3 under par."

Mickelson was too hard-charging. "I had to adjust to what a good round was under the conditions I was facing, and I just kept trying to kind of press the issue," he admitted. The failure to manage his expectations may have been fatal; his rounds of 73-71 have left him chasing. "I've got to go out and shoot a low round tomorrow, and I don't know if the conditions will be conducive to that, but hopefully they will be."

If things go according to pattern for him, they won't be. Not only did he get the worst of Thursday, he didn't get much of a break Friday, either. Mickelson had just finished his round in the intensifying winds when the R&A blew the siren signaling unplayable conditions and suspending play. Mickelson knew the delay would only help the scores of those on the course.

"I'm happy for those guys," he said, sarcastically. "That's great."

The conditions have turned every player into his own personal meteorologist. The first thing Mark Calcavecchia and his wife did when they woke up Friday morning was run to their hotel room window and jerk back the curtains "like little kids at Christmas," he said. Rain was beating against the pane, but at least the flags were limp. The stillness allowed Calcavecchia to vault onto the board with a 67. The 50-year-old was just stopping by here on his way to play in the British Senior Open at Carnoustie, and hardly expected to make the cut. Now he's a contender. But the prospect of dealing with these conditions for two straight weeks was exhausting, he wryly noted.

"If we've got to be playing in this for seven or eight days in a row, I'll definitely be ready to exit the country," he said.

But such changeable weather had a kind of beauty if you got to watch it and didn't have to suffer through playing in it. In the space of just five minutes, fat, coal-colored clouds come skidding across the cerulean sky, and the rain arrives in waves, as if the North Sea has stood up and walked on to land. Then, just as quickly, it goes away again. As Tom Watson says of St. Andrews, "Whatever she gave away today, she'll take back tomorrow."

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