Prepare for Saturday shootout at Open
SANDWICH, England -- Summer returned to England -- probably for just a day -- and out came the shirtsleeves, ice cream and sunburned Brits at Royal St. George's.
What didn't come along were red numbers to match all the red faces.
Despite sunny skies and sweet weather that is expected to turn sour Saturday, the scores during the second round of the Open Championship did not reflect what appeared to be much easier scoring conditions.
Of course, they weren't easy at all, which is why the first-round lead of 5 under par actually went a stroke higher through 36 holes. And with poor weather forecast for the third round, an opportunity to take advantage might have passed.
"It's difficult," Phil Mickelson said when asked whether he was surprised that there were not more low scores. "What I've noticed is ... the easy holes, the pins have been in ridiculously hard spots. We've got an L-wedge, and a great shot is 20 feet. ... The way it's set up is going to lead to par, par, par, par."
Mickelson wasn't exactly complaining, as he is rarely a factor at the Open through 36 holes. His score of 139 finds him just three strokes back of Darren Clarke and Lucas Glover on an extremely crowded leaderboard that offered little separation due to the difficult conditions and tough pin placements.
Of the 71 players who made the 36-hole cut, every single one of them is within seven shots of the lead.
And if the weather reports are correct -- and there are no guarantees in that regard -- we are in for a rough Saturday.
Heavy rain is predicted early, followed by strong winds, with gusts of up to 35 mph.
"I was watching earlier, and they were talking about going to be some really low scores and guys are going to shoot the grass off the course," said 1996 Open champion Tom Lehman, who is tied for seventh, just two back. "And as they were warming up on the practice tee, the wind started to blow and it steadily picked up. It's not super-duper strong but it's strong enough to be a factor. Probably a two-club wind at times.
"The course is very bouncy, too. It's just totally, completely dried out. Whatever little moisture was on the course from yesterday is long gone, and the course is like a brick."
Perhaps that explains why no one was able to surpass the standard set Thursday by then-co-leaders Thomas Bjorn and Tom Lewis. Both players failed to break par Friday. Leaders Clarke and Glover (who are at 136, 4 under par) played in the morning, as did Chad Campbell, who is a stroke back, along with Martin Kaymer, Bjorn and Miguel Angel Jimenez.
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Masters champion Charl Schwartzel got into contention with a morning 67 following an opening-round 71 in which he left the course frustrated.
"Yesterday I felt I was playing well," he said. "I was hitting good shots, and I was getting penalized for it. I was hitting tee shots on the lines I was aiming for, and you're talking 1 yard either way and you're absolutely perfect, and you end up in bunkers and chipping out sideways and now all of a sudden grinding for bogeys.
"After a while, that sort of starts getting frustrating. I went into four bunkers in five holes. It just feels like you're losing ground playing well."
Of course, it's the same for everyone.
"That's what you sort of comfort yourself on," Schwartzel said. "You hope someone else is getting these sort of breaks. Everyone is going to. This golf course is so bouncy, got so many hills on the fairways, there's sort of a margin of luck."
Therein lies the frustration of Royal St. George's, a course that has more than a few detractors.
And yet, several fairways were softened in anticipation of this year's championship, and the rough is nowhere near the brutal jungle players faced when the tournament was last played here in 2003.
A relative onslaught on par Thursday coupled with the benign early forecast for Friday perhaps put tournament officials on the defensive and led to some tougher pin placements.
The feeling was that those players who had late tee times Thursday and early Friday were going to get the best of it. Turns out that, yes, it was easier Friday morning -- but not by much.
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"I was sort of bemoaning my draw early on this morning," said U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy, who shot 69 to finish at 140, four strokes back. "I saw the guys finish up last night and it was flat calm, and I woke up this morning and the sun was shining, and I was like, nice draw. But you can't do anything about it. You've just got to go and do the best you can with what you have, and that's what I've tried to do the first two days."
Whatever the case, clear skies and warm weather did not lead to an assault on par.
What happens if things get nasty?
"Everybody that's there for this weekend can win it, and that's what we're looking ahead to," Bjorn said. "Unlike often when you're in contention in a championship where it might be between six, seven, eight of you, now it's between the whole field. You've just got to go out there and knuckle down and see where it gets you to on Sunday afternoon."
Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.
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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