Matt Kuchar of the USA remained in contention for the Open Championship after scoring a second-round 71 in testing conditions
Matt Kuchar reckons he had forgotten how good a test of the game Birkdale provides, and though he got a completely different set of questions in his second round on Friday to those he dealt with well in compiling the five-under total which earned him a share of the overnight lead on day one, he dealt with them well enough to book himself a place in the last pairing with Jordan Spieth.
Conditions were really hard today, nearly the opposite wind of what we had yesterday, he said of the south-easterly that greeted the players when they arrived at the course in the morning. The course played completely differently. And this wind, it felt like every hole was a crosswind hole and you had to play for so much curve on the ball. It was quite a trying, challenging day.
The round started at 8.36am in the company of Scotlands Richie Ramsay, the 2006 US Amateur champion, and Ryan Fox, son of Grant, the former All Blacks fly-half. Despite a bogey at the 2nd Kuchar immediately peeled off back-to-back birdies to touch six under before giving it back at the 8th, then coming back in one over after two more bogeys, one of them at the 18th, and a birdie at the par-five 15th.
Another had been available at the exposed par-three 12th, where he said he started the ball 30 yards to the left of the green and above the crowd and saw it hit the putting surface and finish 12ft away only after deviating right in the last 20 yards of its flight. The left-to-right breaking putt skirted around the cup but stayed up for a tap-in.
Kuchar, the 1997 US Amateur champion, made his Open debut on these links in 1998, when he missed the cut, and was present again in 2008 when he missed it again, so you could say his experience has been picked up the hard way but after sharpening his links game at the Scottish Open last week, he is enjoying the challenge this one presents.
To that end the 39-year-old, who has yet to win a major and has a best Open finish of ninth in 2012, says he never approaches a round with a gameplan but makes up his mind what to hit and where to hit it when the gets to a hole. Having made a decent fist of it so far, he said he was looking forward to spending the afternoon in front of a TV set and seeing what the rest made of the challenge.
I think thats one of the cool things over here, whether its Thursday or Friday, whatever your morning round is, getting to go back to the room, put on the TV and watch the guys play in the afternoon, and particularly in tough conditions, he said. I think thats kind of what we know about the Open and I think thats what people enjoy about the Open watching the hard wind, the rain, the guys just trying to survive out there. Today is my day.
Ramsay had an even better one, compiling a level-par 70 to add to his 68 and which featured a run of pars until the 13th, where he dropped a shot but got it back by rolling in a 15-footer at the 17th.
Thats some of the best golf Ive played this year, maybe even the last few years, said Ramsay, who qualified by finishing second at the Irish Open two weeks ago and is making his seventh appearance in the oldest major. My irons in particular were exceptional today and though I missed a few putts down the stretch, I holed a nice one at the 17th before a good lag at the last.
I wanted to compete with the best in the world in a major. I feel like Ive done that the first two days, Ill try and be the best I can be and take it from there. It would be great to be in a position of just being in contention on Sunday. Fox had a 72 to follow his first-round 74, to stand at six over for the tournament and had to hope that the afternoon conditions would intensify and move the projected cut line down from five-over to six-over.
Paul Casey has had better birthdays, and on the occasion of his 40th the Englishman, who was tied for fourth at four under overnight, slumped to a 77 and finished the day at three over after waiting almost four hours to register his first and only birdie, at the par-five 15th.
By that time he had made six bogeys and been overtaken by Rickie Fowler, who picked up a shot at the difficult 6th and then holed a magnificent 60ft-plus putt for a birdie two from a swale besides the 7th, where his ball finished to a chorus of groans after his tee shot pitched at the edge of green and stayed there for a few seconds. It took him to one under but three bogeys around the turn dragged him back and he goes into the weekend at two over.
I could have turned it into a better round than it was but it wasnt easy put there, said Fowler. It was fun. I love playing in the wind. It creates a bit of a challenge and I felt I did a good job of it. A couple of bad swings but really take away those two three putts and just two-putt and I shoot under par.
Adam Scott made up their threeball and after two early bogeys the Australian made a 15-footer for birdie after a great approach from the right rough at the 9th but similarly pushed his next three tee shots right and dropped shots at them all, to leave himself dangerously close to the expected cut line. A birdie at the long 17th, his second in successive days, got him back to four over for the day and three over for the competition and he was glad to complete the 18th without mishap for par.