If there was a moment today that put the first two rounds of the British Open in perspective, it came in the middle of the afternoon when the wind and the rain were blowing so hard it seemed the entire Royal St. George's Golf club might be swept off to Oz at any moment.
Onto the 17th tee came Severiano Ballesteros, the defending champion. He was seven over par and in need of a birdie to get into contention. The hole is 424 yards, par 4. With the wind and rain in the players' faces, it was playing more like 624.
Ballesteros swung almost out of his shoes on his drive, which traveled perhaps 210 yards. Out came the three-wood. Another huge swing. The ball still was 30 yards shy of the green. Ballesteros made bogey after two almost-perfect shots.
Four hours later, David Graham hit a good drive, then smoothly knocked an eight-iron onto the green. Same hole, same day. But the wind was entirely different. So were the results.
A few minutes later, Graham was in the clubhouse at 139 -- one under par for 36 holes -- and, along with Englishman Sandy Lyle, led this most bizarre of British Opens. Jack Nicklaus shot 75 after opening with a 77 to miss the cut for the first time in 24 years at the tournament and defending champion Ballesteros' 74 left him at the cutoff point of 149.
Christy O'Connor Jr., who led by four strokes Thursday after his opening-round 64, fell to 76 today and into a tie for second at 140.
"There's no doubt the morning players got a raw deal," Graham said. "When we started, it was really bad. But by the last few holes, the wind was almost helping us."
The change in conditions was remarkable. For most of the day, the wind howled and the rain poured. But at about 4 p.m., the rain disappeared and the sun came out. The wind continued, but not with nearly the fury of the 40-mph gusts of before.
The anomaly of Ballesteros and Graham at No. 17 was only one example of how much the weather changed play. One other: At 2 p.m., Bernhard Langer hit a four-iron at the 165-yard 16th hole and landed 25 yards short of the green. Five hours later, Lyle hit a seven-iron to the middle of the green.
"I certainly have been unlucky with the weather," said Ballesteros, who was no more unlucky than Langer. The Masters champion played after the wind kicked up Thursday and managed a 72. Today, playing again at the worst time, he pieced together a 69 that must rank as one of the more extraordinary rounds in a major championship.
That put him in a group at 141, two shots behind the leaders and one shot behind O'Connor, Tony Johnstone of Zimbabwe and D.A. Weibring, the only U.S. player in the top 10.
"I feel as if I shot more like 64 or 65," Langer said. "It was really a tough day at the office. I don't think I can ever remember conditions quite as tough. The par out there right now is more like 75 than 70."
At one par-4 hole, the eighth, Langer hit two drivers. He averages 275 yards per drive. The hole is 415 yards long. He was short of the green in two.
There were similar stories early in the day. Nicklaus remembered hitting a "solid" five-iron that traveled 115 yards.
The strange weather and the difficulty of the course have a lot to do with the strange names that linger on the leader board: Wayne Riley, Ian Woosnam, Emilio Rodriguez, Robert Lee, Howard Clark and Peter Senior, all at 141, are still around.
The more important names before the weekend is over, in addition to Graham and Langer, likely are to be those such as Mark O'Meara, who shot 72 today for 142; Greg Norman, who played in the gale and shot 72 for 143; Andy Bean (72 -- 144), Tom Watson (73 -- 145), Fuzzy Zoeller (76 -- 145), Peter Jacobsen (74 -- 145) and Larry Nelson (75 -- 145).
Even players such as Tom Kite at 146, Lanny Wadkins at 147, Craig Stadler at 148 and Ballesteros at 149 (the same score as his brother Manuel) have a chance, given the strange weather and the lack of experience among many of the leaders.
"The way things are going, anything can happen between now and Sunday," said O'Connor, who had a very shaky 40 going out but finished strongly to remain in contention. "I feel great right now. I'm right in it."
But perhaps no one feels better than Langer. Only three players broke par today -- the others were noncontenders Eamonn Darcy (68) and Paul Oglesby (69) and neither played under the conditions he faced.
"You have to keep reminding yourself that everyone out there is playing in the same thing," Langer said. "You have to stay patient, not get cross and concentrate. You have to make yourself think about golf and not the elements."
He might have done that best at No. 15. Thursday, he made 7 at the hole, leaving a pitching wedge shot in a sand trap. Today, into the wind, he hit a one-iron second shot within 12 feet and holed the putt for a birdie that, as he put it, "felt like an eagle."
Even with a bogey at 18 -- which, like 17, was unreachable in two at that hour -- Langer came in smiling, his face almost as red from the wind as his burgundy corduroys. "I think that 141 will be very close to the lead," he said confidently.
Even with the change in the weather and the wind, Langer was right. Graham's round was saved at the 14th, the narrow par 5 that has brought grief to so many players. He hit his tee shot in the heavy rough to the left, barely moved the ball with a pitching wedge and had to layup short of the "Suez Canal" with another wedge. He was lying three and still 215 yards from the pin.
"Then I hit a great one-iron shot to 20 feet and holed the putt," he said. "That probably made my round. It was a 5 that I couldn't have been happier with."
Graham holed another 20-foot putt afer coming out of the bunker at No. 18 and came in knowing he at least would share the lead. Having won the 1979 PGA and the 1981 U.S. Open, he is more than a 36-hole wonder.
Lyle, who is 26, doesn't have Graham's track record, but has had some success on the European tour. Today, he started with double bogey and was three over after three holes.
"I wasn't feeling too clever then," he said. "But I made a 20-footer to save par at the fourth and that got me going. I'm very happy to be where I am, especially after that start."
All those near the lead must feel that way. What the weather will bring Saturday, no one knows. In a British Open in which Nicklaus is going home, where Seve Ballesteros isn't even the low Ballesteros and names such as Lyle, Johnstone and Senior matter after two days, there is a lot of validity to Lyle's last comment today:
"If I'm still around this spot Sunday, I'll be excited. But that's a long time off."
Two days that promise to be at least as long as the first two.