Darren Clarke and Lucas Glover led the British Open into its third round on Saturday with the 71 survivors facing another severe test in the form of lashing rain and gusting winds.
Friday’s perfect playing conditions were a distant memory as Australia’s Matthew Millar got things going at Royal St George’s under glowering, grey skies and a slight drizzle.
The forecast was for much worse to come, especially in the early afternoon which would add extra fangs to a par-70 layout already feared for its length and unpredictability.
After two days that accounted for such top names as Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, the two top-ranking players in the world as well as Graeme McDowell, Padraig Harrington and Ian Poulter, the field was uncustomarily bunched up.
Popular Ulsterman Clarke, at 42 enjoying a new lease of life, and quiet American Glover, the 2009 United States Open champion, were the joint leaders on four under par, but the remaining 69 golfers were all within seven strokes, making it one of the most open weekend fields at the Open ever.
The leaderboard was an assortment of old and new with Clarke, 47-year-old Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez (three under) and 40-year-old Thomas Born of Denmark (three under) representing the latter and 20-year-old English amateur Tom Lewis (one under) and big-hitting American Dustin Johnson (two under) the latter.
The only top 10 players in the leading group were world No 3 Martin Kaymer of Germany at three under, and Masters champion Charl Schwartzel of South Africa at two under.
But just off the leaderboard and sure to be hauling round the biggest gallery was US Open champion Rory McIlroy, who has battled to stay in contention without producing his best golf to date.
The 22-year-old Ulsterman, seeking to become the youngest winner of the Open since 1893, sets off with young Amerian Rickie Fowler for the third day in a row and he says he is ready to battle it out with the weather gods.
“I wouldn’t say I’m looking forward to it. I’ve just got to put up with it and persevere,” he said.
“I think for the tournament it could make it very interesting, but you’ve just got to take what you’ve been given and just try and deal with that.
Tied for 19th at the halfway stage it will be a different prospect for McIlroy on Saturday as he led after the first two rounds of the year’s first two Majors, The Masters and the US Open.
The sentimental favourite though is likely to be the larger-that-life Clarke who had three top 10 finishes in the Open in a five-year spell from 1997, including a tie for second place in 1997 and a tie for third place in 2001.
Since then his fortunes have waxed and waned, along with his weight, and he will be forever remembered for his heroic performances in the 2006 Ryder Cup at The K-Club outside Dublin shortly after the death from cancer of his wife Heather.
A barren spell over the last two years came to an end in May when he won the Iberdrola Open in Mallorca and he feels he has the game to stay the course here, especially with the bad weather.
“It would mean an awful lot, but obviously this is only after two rounds,” he replied when asked what a win in the Open at his 20th attempt would mean to him at this late stage of his career.
There will be support also for 61-year-old Tom Watson who provided the highlight of day two with a hole-in one at the sixth hole. — AFP