The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Sports

July 20, 2012

Steady Snedeker surges to lead at British Open

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England — On a day filled with wayward swings, Brandt Snedeker was steady as can be at the British Open.

The 31-year-old Tennessean, who had never even made the cut in golf’s oldest major, surged to the lead with another bogey-free round, shooting a 6-under 64 Friday that left him tied with Nick Faldo for the lowest 36-hole score in Open history.

Faldo posted a 130 total at Muirfield in 1992 on the way to the last of his three British titles. Snedeker matched him with a 10-under showing over the first two days, and can only hope that come Sunday he’ll be in the same position Faldo was two decades ago — holding the claret jug.

Snedeker kept up his assault on the fairways, the key to navigating the claustrophobic layout at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. He rapped in four birdies on the front side to make the turn with a 4-under 30. He rolled in a 25-footer for another birdie at the par-5 11th, then put his tee shot in the middle of the green on the par-3 12th and calmly sank the putt — his sixth birdie of the round.

He’s got 10 of those over the first two days. Just as important, he has yet to make a bogey.

“I’m sure everybody in this room is in about as much shock as I am right now,” Snedeker said after coming to the media center. “My mantra all week has been to get the ball on the greens as fast as possible. Once I’m on there, I have a pretty good hand on the speed of the greens. I’m just going to try and keep doing that over the weekend.”

First-round leader Adam Scott teed off in the afternoon after tying the course record with a 64 on Thursday, a mark that Snedeker matched again 24 hours later. Scott’s advantage was gone by the time he stepped on the course, but he began to make a run at Snedeker with two straight birdies to start the back nine, pushing his score to 8 under.

Tiger Woods was on the move, too, getting to 5 under with a couple of early birdies. He is seeking his 15th major title and first in more than four years, a quest that began with a promising 67 on Thursday.

Graeme McDowell and James Morrison were at 4 under. Another stroke back was Paul Lawrie, who won at Carnoustie in 1999 when Jean Van de Velde had his historic meltdown on the 72nd hole.

The field was beginning to spread out during another round with favorable weather but much more devious pin placements, which sent the scores shooting up from the opening round. No one in the clubhouse was closer than eight strokes of the lead. The group at 138 included No. 1-ranked Luke Donald, Steve Stricker and Steven Alker.

Snedeker is best remembered for making an emotional run at the 2008 Masters and winding up in a tie for third. Otherwise, he’s never been much of a factor in the majors; in fact, he was 0-for-3 in making the cut at his previous British Opens.

That wasn’t a concern this time, not the way he’s been playing. Snedeker proved there were plenty of birdies to be had if you kept the ball in the fairway, allowing him to reach 31 of 36 greens in regulation (86 percent) over the first two days.

“No bogeys around here is getting some good breaks and playing some pretty good golf,” he said.

For many players, that proved elusive.

Rory McIlroy, who opened with a 67, knocked his ball onto an adjoining tee box at No. 3, needed a couple of whacks to escape a towering pot bunker on the ninth, and struggled to a 75 that left a daunting 10 strokes out of the lead.

“It’s just tough when you’re really trying to get something going and it’s just not quite happening,” McIlroy said.

Phil Mickelson, the runner-up last year at Royal St. George but never an Open champion, could’ve warmed up the jet before he even made the turn. Three double-bogeys led to a 78 and an 11-over 151 total. Only eight players had a higher score when he departed the club, having failed to make the cut for only the fourth time in 19 Open appearances.

“I really don’t know what to say,” Mickelson said after his worst Open round since 2008. “I obviously played terrible.”

Nicolas Colsaerts was nearly as bad. After surprising in the opening round with a 65, the big-hitting Belgian fell apart Friday, running into trouble right away with back-to-back bogeys at Nos. 2 and 3 before making a total mess of the par-5 seventh, normally one of the easier holes on the course.

His third shot missed the green, winding up in the dreaded rough. He flubbed his attempted escape, the ball going 10 yards and remaining in the tall grass. Barely able to see it, Colsaerts took another big swing and apparently missed. Finally, he chunked it out on his third try, the ball zipping over the green. A pitch and a putt left him with a triple-bogey 8.

He went from a contender to barely above the projected cutline at 142 total.

Donald gave the English fans a thrill with four birdies in five holes on the front side, pushing him onto the leaderboard.

“Luuuuuke!” the gallery chanted after Donald rolled one in at No. 8 and pumped his fist.

He dropped back with a sloppy approach shot at the 13th that rocketed through the green and disappeared into an especially tall patch of grass. Unable to play it, he had to take a one-stroke penalty. But he recovered for a 68, leaving him at least in the mix for his first major title.

“I’m certainly feeling more and more comfortable,” Donald said. “It’s nice to string a couple of solid rounds together in a major. Obviously where I am in my career, I need to be contending.  And obviously this was a good solid two rounds. I’m looking forward to the weekend.”

The erratic play was a striking contrast to the opening round. While Scott was grabbing the lead, 52 other players shot no worse than par. For the first time since 1998, no one in the 156-player field opened with a score in the 80s.

That wasn’t the case Friday, largely because of the extremely tough pin locations.

The weather wasn’t an issue, except for the remnants of a heavy rain overnight. The course was inundated, turning some bunkers into ponds and prompting the R&A to request fans delay their arrival so the grounds could dry out.

But the round began as scheduled under sunny, blue skies. There was just a hint of the feared breezes off the Irish Sea that give the links course its bite, thought the skies darkened in the afternoon and, as usual, spit out the occasional showers.

The bunkers were the main issue. Already vulnerable to flooding because of the closeness of the sea and rains that have been over the top even by English standards, several traps were transformed into small ponds by the latest batch of showers. PGA champion Keegan Bradley had to hit one of his bunker shots out of a couple of inches of water because there was no place to drop it.

 

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