Monday, May 21, 2018

British Open: Muirfield irritates, Tiger elevates, Jimenez meditates, Mickelson capitulates

Muirfield still irritating

The Muirfield course's setup and scoring conditions continued to be a major topic of unflattering conversation Friday. Charl Schwartzel, who during his first round broke a club in frustration, described the second-round conditions as unfair and "a lottery," despite shooting 3-under 68 to sit four shots off the lead at 1 over. Players have complained about pin placements, and two weeks of unseasonably warm weather and sunshine have made the fairways in some places rock hard and more than a few greens lightning-fast. After his 70, Henrik Stenson said, "I could be 10 back by the end of the day; I could be two back." (He was one.)

In response to Thursday's griping, the R&A had the greens hand-watered overnight and double cut to 0.16 of an inch in the morning. The greens hit warp speed again anyway, and conditions were complicated by the week's first easterly wind.

The hardest hole of the day was the par-4 15th, where a tricky pin placement caused a lot of grief. Nicolas Colsaerts six-putted on his way to a 9. First-round leader Zach Johnson three-putted from 10 feet. A putt from former Gator Billy Horschel went 30 feet when it was supposed to go only 15.

"Obviously, 15 was a bit of carnage," said Johnson, who shot 75 and was at 1 under, two back.

One person not complaining about 15 was Robert Garrigus, who made a 100-foot putt for eagle. Then again, he shot 75, was 11 over for the tournament and missed the cut (8 over).

Schwartzel did say he was willing to be reasonable in his assessment. If he wins, he said, "I'll be kissing this golf course."

A nice glass of wine, a cigar and sleep whenever

A win by Miguel Angel Jimenez could set golf back 20 years.

Not because the Spaniard would be the oldest player to win a major championship. But because his fitness regimen is so old-school it involves little more than wine, cigars and a stretching routine that looks like a cross between pole dancing and baton twirling.

The 49-year-old walked off Muirfield late Friday afternoon after par 71 at 3-under 139, leading by a stroke. Asked whether he was feeling additional pressure in pursuit of the one accomplishment that has eluded him throughout a distinguished 31-year pro career, Jimenez smiled.

"You have to do the same things that you do every day. You don't need to change anything. Just don't think about it," he said. "I'm just going to stay with my girlfriend, with my sons, and we're going to have a dinner, like I do every day.

"Don't need to do anything special. I'm leading; now I have to go to bed at 10 o'clock?"

"What time will you go to bed?" came a followup question.

"When I feel like it," Jimenez replied. "And especially after I smoke my cigar."

Jimenez, a cigar-smoking wine-lover nicknamed "The Mechanic," is perhaps best known outside Europe for the unique way he gets ready for a round.

Upon arriving at the range, he'll put his knees together and gyrate his hips clockwise and counterclockwise — silly looking enough as it is, but especially for a guy with a hefty belly and even heftier ponytail. Then he'll pull out a couple of clubs to help stretch his legs and loosen up his arms, though none of it looks very strenuous.

"I'll actually arrive early to the course to watch it," Phil Mickelson said.

Mickelson backs off

A day after he took British Open organizers to task for the course setup, Phil Mickelson had a change of heart Friday. That came despite shooting a 3-over 74 that included a four-putt on 16, where Mickelson took three putts from inside 4 feet.

"When I made those comments (Thursday), I wasn't being totally fair to the R&A because they've done a lot of things great this championship," said Mickelson, who was 1 over for the tournament. "The fairway width is a very fair width to get the ball in play. The rough is difficult and challenging, but it's not over the top. It's very fair in spots.

"For me to single out just a few sketchy pin placements and not give them credit for all the good things they've done was not fair."

Tiger again in familiar precarious spot

Tiger Woods couldn't get anything close all day except for the one place that mattered: his name high on the leaderboard.

Woods didn't charge into contention as much as he kept from falling back like so many others. Not only did he go 12 holes without a birdie, he had only two reasonable chances before finally cashing in with a 15-foot putt on the last hole for par 71. He raised his putter toward the sky with a flourish, fully aware he was positioned again to break the longest major drought of his career. Woods was at 2-under 140, one shot behind leader Miguel Angel Jimenez.

"Just continue plodding along," Woods said. "Just continue being patient, putting the ball in the right spots. We're not going to get a lot of opportunities out there, but when I have, I've been able to capitalize. And hopefully I can continue doing that."

Woods is 0-for-16 at majors since the 2008 U.S. Open. From 1997-2008, he won 14 of the 20 times he was in the top five after 36 holes. Since then he is 0-for-6.

Major success again teasing Westwood

Lee Westwood has long been one of the best players in the world from tee to green — he hit a drive on No. 15 on Friday that rolled into a bunker, center of the fairway, 400 yards from the tee — but his short game has let him down. The 40-year-old now has played 61 majors without winning, the most among active players.

But moving to Palm Beach Gardens this year — and hiring 1991 Open champion Ian Baker-Finch as his putting coach — has helped. His second-round putting on Muirfield's bone-dry greens was sharp as he shot 3-under 68 to sit at 2 under and tied for second, a stroke back.

"I got a couple of tips from Ian on getting tension out of my arms and having a bit more control," Westwood said. "And I'm getting it on line nicely, and I've gauged the pace of the greens as well."

Westwood has seven top-three finishes in majors, the most of anyone without a win since the inception of the Masters in 1934. He is looking to become the first Englishman to win his national Open since Nick Faldo in 1992.

Big names making other plans for their weekend

U.S. Open champion Justin Rose led a parade of stars exiting the Open.

Rose shot 6-over 77 to finish with a two-day total of 152, missing the cut of 8 over by two strokes. Eighty-four players in the field of 156 made the cut. Also missing it were major winners Rory McIlroy and Jim Furyk, and Luke Donald, Matteo Manassero and Nick Watney, ranked in the top 30 in the world.

"Golf humbles you all the time," said Rose, ranked No. 3.

McIlroy shot 75 to go with a first-round 79. Birdies were so few and far between for him that with his departure before the weekend already guaranteed, he celebrated one at No. 17 with an exaggerated fist pump.

"That was a very big putt for me," he said, laughing.

McIlroy's score of 12 over was his worst to par in 36 holes at a major championship. "But I guess I have a clearer picture of what I need to work on and what I need to do to put things right," he said. "Sometimes this game can feel further away than it actually is. At the end of (Thursday), it couldn't have felt much further away."

Benchmark of the day

The oldest major champion is Julius Boros, who was 48 years, 4 months when he won the 1968 PGA Championship.

Compiled from Times wires, ESPN,