Play was briefly stopped on Friday evening as a truly biblical amount of rain hit the Royal Birkdale links. It was just to let the greenkeepers tend to the few patches of water gathering on the course, but throughout the day the players and caddies were wrestling with getting the wet-weather gear on and off. But apparently there is no such thing as drizzle in Southport, as it was all or nothing when it came to the rain.
And once it halted, leader Jordan Spieth was able to hammer home his advantage in the then tranquil conditions with crucial birdies on the 11th and 12th – and even after it started bucketing down again, his eagle at the 15th put the icing on one of the performances of the day.
As predicted, conditions at Royal Birkdale made life more difficult for the competitors on Friday, but Zach Johnson in inspired form for 66, the best round of the day, and a far better Rory McIlroy signing for 68, showed how to tackle the elements.
The pro golfers are deceptively strong, and all the time spent in the gym these days certainly has been paying off. Throughout the practice rounds and opening 18 holes, the players have been showing off their bulging biceps to rescue wayward drives from the thick rough. But on Friday the grass got wet, and it was a totally different ballgame as poor Justin Thomas found out. He was dressed in camouflage but there was no hiding for the Americans as he could not hack his ball out of the rough on the 6th hole, with his club going flying out of his hands instead. Thomas had to take an unplayable and ended up with a scorecard-destroying quintuple-bogey nine.
We’ve all been there. Sergio Garcia completely mishit a chip from the rough close to the 4th green, and came up way short, and took his frustrations out on the nearest bush. And while he was left grimacing and clutching his shoulder, the fired-up Spaniard refused to give in and battled through the rest of his round with the help of a physio. Moreover, on the very next hole – presumably with his blood still boiling – the Masters champion decided to take the short-cut and lashed the drive of the day right at the heart of the 5th green. Then he rolled off the back but slammed in a putt for eagle from there which helped turn an indifferent start around. T.O./pph