TURNBERRY // Steve Marino believed his chances of playing in the Open were so remote that he did not take his passport with him to last week's John Deere Classic in Illinois where a special charter flight had been booked to transport competitors to the South West of Scotland.
The American needed parental help to make the transatlantic trip which now looks like being richly rewarded after he claimed the championship lead on a wind-hit second day at Turnberry with Tom Watson, his illustrious compatriot who is 30 years his senior. "I had to fly my dad down to my Florida home so he could get my passport and FedEx it to me," said a contented Marino, who excelled in the testing conditions to post an impressive score of 68 to set a clubhouse target of five under par for those following him on to the Ailsa links.
Marino, one of seven reserves to profit from a string of withdrawals from the 138th Open, enthused: "It was probably one of the best scoring rounds I've ever had. There were times when I felt I was one-putting every hole. I don't think I could have shot any better than this." Marino sensed it was going to be his day when a sand wedge from 116 yards at the third disappeared down the hole, as did his greenside bunker shot at the sixth. A 20ft eagle at the 17th was the crowning glory and he was then able to watch with a smirk from the clubhouse as those hoping to catch him took a soaking from a deluge.
Not ,many coped better in those miserable conditions than Mark Calcavecchia, returning to this part of the world 20 years after lifting the Claret Jug just up the Ayrshire coast at Troon. Calcavecchia, 49, was one of only a handful of players who beat the par score of 70. One over at the turn, he had a run of four threes in five holes propel him up the leader board to finish just a shot behind Watson and Marino, whom he knows very well and regards as "a great kid with a ton of talent".
Calcavecchia talked down his chances of a second Open triumph. He said: "This is about the second time of the year I didn't struggle to make the cut, so I'm just happy with that. "I'm usually choking so bad coming down the last few holes on Fridays because I want to play the weekend. I felt great today. Even when I was two over through five I knew I was going to make some birdies somewhere." Ross Fisher matched Marino's 68 to be among a cluster of players two off the pace with halfway scores of 137. The young Englishman, who has a decent chance of winning a first major, is planning to abandon that challenge if his pregnant wife Jo goes into labour in the next 24 hours. "I'm trying to put that to the back of my mind because I am here to do a job," he said. "But obviously my wife comes first. I want to be at the birth. It's going to be a great experience and one I don't want to miss."
Fisher is guaranteed a late start this afternoon if there are any overnight maternal developments and could find himself playing alongside the dual US Open champion Retief Goosen who returned an level par round to remain at three under for the tournament. "I don't think I am swinging that great but I have putted well for the last two days," said the South African, who has the pedigree to prevail on what are likely to be two more difficult days.