x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Cruel wind blows field wide open

Oosthuizen benefits from early tee off but the overnight leader McIlroy plummets down the field while Woods clings on.

Spectators shelter from the rain under umbrellas beside the fifth tee on day two.
Spectators shelter from the rain under umbrellas beside the fifth tee on day two.

ST ANDREWS, SCOTLAND // Rory McIlroy cut a forlorn figure across the links of Old Course last night as his dream of capitalising on an early lead in the British Open was blown off course away by a cruel second day wind which favoured one half of the 156-man field and punished the other.

After South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen had made the most of benign morning conditions - a bit of rain but nothing like the gales of the afternoon - to turn a two-stroke first round deficit into a commanding advantage, the young Irishman went out to try to retrieve the situation. After opening with three solid pars, he and the rest of the later starters were called off the course by rules officials who decided that the conditions were unplayable due to balls oscillating on the greens.

Sixty-five minutes later, McIlroy returned to the fourth green, failed to make his par and then lost his way badly as a slew of bogeys and a costly five at the short 11th saw him plummet through a chasing pack led surprisingly by Mark Calcavecchia, the veteran American. It was no coincidence that Calcavecchia, the champion at Royal Troon in 1989, made his charge up the leaderboard from his starting position as first out of the 52 threeballs. Equally, Oosthuizen profited with the same five-under-par score of 67 through following the American on to the first tee 11 minutes later at 6.41am.

Ricky Barnes, Calcavecchia's fellow American, was kicking himself afterwards for not making similar morning gains and allowing a powerful position at nine under par to deteriorate badly on the home stretch. An embarrassing seven on the 14th started a Barnes slump which resulted in four shots slipping away on the last five holes. Paul Casey and Lee Westwood, the English pair, also benefited from the best of the weather on what was at times a miserable second day for the galleries at St Andrews.

While Casey was content, in the end, to post a score of 69 which would have been so much better but for a calamitous seven at the penultimate hole, Westwood was less happy to be alongside his compatriot on a six-under-par total of 138 for 36 holes. Seventeen pars and a solitary birdie at the relatively easy par five fifth left Westwood reflecting on a missed opportunity. "I shot 67 yesterday and it should really have been a 64 and I shot 71 today and it should have been a 66," he said.

"But that's the way it goes occasionally. I hit quite a lot of good putts that didn't go in but I feel I am in a good position for the weekend." Westwood, who has defied a torn calf muscle to compete here, felt he performed at least as well as Miguel Angel Jimenez, his playing partner who matched the 67s of Oosthuizen and Calcavecchia to thrust himself in contention at five under par. The veteran Spaniard was tied with Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell, the recently-crowned US Open champion, who kept alive his hopes of back-to-back majors with a fighting 68.

McDowell, who has uncharacteristically three-putted four of the 36 holes he has played here, was otherwise happy with his situation. "I've got myself back into contention," he said. "My focus was a lot better today - it wasn't where it needed to be yesterday [Thursday]." John Daly, who briefly held the clubhouse lead on the first day, disappointed his army of followers by going in the opposite direction in the testing early evening conditions.

The flamboyant American, who won the championship here in 1995, began safely enough with five pars but then bogeyed four of his next eight holes to disappear from view, finishing 10 shots behind Oosthuizen. Tiger Woods initially looked like following suit as dropped shots at his first two holes. The world No 1 stuck to his task manfully, though, and rectified both of those errors by the turn. Woods, seeking his 15th major title, was helped by the most fortuitous of birdies on the fifth, his wayward ball laying to rest against the wheels of a buggy which was parked on beaten down ground in otherwise clinging rough.

He was able to chip to within six feet and make the putt to restore a spring to his step. @Email:wjohnson@thenational.ae