Field bruised, battered by Mother Nature
SANDWICH, England -- By the end of his round, Bo Van Pelt looked like he had spent his Saturday stuck inside a dishwasher during the rinse cycle.
"Brutal," he said.
Trevor Immelman compared it to going "18 holes with the heavyweight champion of the world." And the 18 holes won by a knockout.
Louis Oosthuizen would have walked off the course had he been playing a friendly round with his buddies.
"You say, 'I'm out of here, boys,'" the defending Open champion said. "But I couldn't do that today."
No, Oosthuizen was stuck at Royal St. George's in the sideways rain, the 4-club winds and the Halloween chill like everyone else. Wasn't it great?
Too bad it didn't last. Instead, we had meteorological mayhem for most of the day and, then at about 3:30 local time, the storm decided to call it quits and leave for afternoon tea and biscuits. Drats.
Rain jackets came off. Hat brims began to dry out. Royal St. George's went from being the meanest SOB on the planet to just an SOB.
The leaders -- and those just below them on the third-round tee sheet -- caught a huge break. It was pouring when Darren Clarke and Lucas Glover teed off at 3:05, but little by little the rains began to subside and the winds went from biblical to merely annoying. It wasn't anything Kent County leaders would want to put on travel brochures, but it beat what poor little Paul Lawrie went through.
"I said to the crowd at the 15th -- there was about 40 or 50 walking around -- 'You're just mental. Just mental,"' said Lawrie, who teed off at 9:05 a.m. local monsoon time. "I just don't understand that at all. I'm getting paid. I've got to be there."
Lawrie, a Scot, won the 1999 Open Championship at Carnoustie. He's played in his share of gales. But Saturday's round of 11-over-par 81 left him wanting a hug.
"It's frightening, ridiculous," he said of the conditions.
Lawrie went through a half-dozen golf gloves and nearly that many towels. Van Pelt, who shot a semi-miraculous 73, used five of his seven available gloves and all five of the towels he had. During the last three holes, his caddie, Mark Chaney, was trying to dry the club grips with a sweatshirt.
Van Pelt said it was the worst weather he's ever played in as a pro. His putter grip was soaked by the fourth hole. His yardage book was basically useless. He had the distances, but there's no book that tells you what to hit into or with those 4-club breezes.
"One of my good friends, before I left, he's like, 'I know you're not going to want to play in it, but I hope it's pissing rain and blowing on you over there,"' Van Pelt said. "So he got his wish."
On the par-5, 543-yard 14th hole, Van Pelt hit a 6-iron that traveled 125 yards. He normally hits it 195.
Lawrie couldn't reach the fairway on the par-4, 469-yard fourth hole -- and that's with the tees moved up nearly 30 yards. That's how hard the wind was blowing against him.
"Only about three or four people in the field that can hit the ball 250 in a howling gale," he said.
Edoardo Molinari hit driver, 3-wood on the hole and ended up 45 yards short of the green.
"I think [the course] was playing stupidly difficult," said Molinari, who shot 76. "Even if they moved some tees up, I think some holes were just a joke."
Oosthuizen, who went through four gloves and four towels, figured par was more like 74 than the actual 70. And that's what he shot, 74.
"I've never played in anything like this," he said.
Rickie Fowler could be seen wearing mitts between shots. They looked like something you'd use to remove a pot roast from the oven. But they kept his hands warm and game hot. He shot 68.
Not everyone was dreading the weather. As Van Pelt was finishing up his post-round chat, 61-year-old Tom Watson walked into the interview tent.
"I bet you he was smiling inside when he saw this," said Van Pelt, nodding toward the five-time Open champion.
He did. Watson tooled around in the Weather Channel Invitational in 72 strokes. He's not going to win the tournament, but he was a gas to watch.
What's weird is that he stunk it up in his Tuesday practice round, when the winds were similarly cruel. By his own math, he would have shot an 84 or 85. But on Saturday, in worse conditions, he shot at least 12 strokes better.
"They can tear you up and spit you out," Watson said of Open Championship weather. "It's done it to me."
If the Sunday forecast holds up -- and why should it start now? -- the Carl Spackler heavy stuff won't come down until about 11 a.m. and won't stop until 3 p.m., about an hour after the leaders tee off. So that could be fun.
As always, I'm rooting for as much carnage as possible. If the Masters is about greens and the U.S. Open about length, then the Open Championship is about weather-related suffering. Or at least I hope it is.
This will be fun. Clarke, the leader, can win his first major and complete the third leg of the 2011 Chubby Slam (Chubby Chandler's clients include Masters winner Charl Schwartzel and U.S. Open winner Rory McIlroy).
Dustin Johnson, one stroke behind Clarke, can win his first major or complete the third leg of the Botched Grand Slam (he blew last year's U.S. Open and PGA Championship). He has the game to do either.
Thomas Bjorn, tied for third, is trying to exorcise the demons of the 2003 Open Championship, when he yakked away a 2-shot lead in the final three holes here.
Here's to a sunless, miserable day. And to a finish worth remembering.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at email@example.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter @GenoEspn.
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2011 OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP
2011 champion: Darren Clarke
Course: Royal St. George's
Where: Sandwich, England
Yardage, par: 7,211 yards, par-70
Topics: The Open Championship