Open 2015: Five perfect scenarios for an imperfect championship

By Tom FordyceChief sports writer
Jordan Spieth tees off during day two
Jordan Spieth will continue his second round on five under

Early in Thursday's first round of the 2015 Open, the still conditions at St Andrews had led some to bemoan the absence of the protection the Scottish winds normally give the course.

What is a links course without links conditions?

Early on Friday's second it was the torrential rain that pooped the party.

Which meant that sunrise on Saturday should have presaged a day to dream about: blue skies, white clouds; all the world's best golfers, barring one unfortunate exception; the world's most iconic golf course, bar nowhere else.

Which just goes to underline that golf is a game like no other. Like the late arrival at a stag-do who attempts to play catch-up and instead embarrasses all concerned in the process, the wind came in too fast and too furious.

The Open 2015: High winds force suspension

Balls were blown off greens. Swings were swung another way. After 45 minutes of misses and mayhem and mutterings of discontent from old masters and young guns alike, play was suspended, suspended, and suspended again.

You'd call it a damp squib, except it was lovely and dry. You'd wonder what it all meant for a sport that is struggling to maintain its place in the public's affections, except that winds have been buffeting the Old Course for the past 500 years.

And you'd fear that it might have ruined what should be the finest few days the sport has to offer, except that - even with the second round yet to be completed, even with myriad plot-lines still to emerge - this could yet be the most perfect of imperfect Opens.

Following in Faldo's footsteps

Danny Willett

On Friday evening, wearing the same pastel yellow jumper in which he won the first of his three Opens, way back in in 1987 at Muirfield, Sir Nick Faldo stood on the Swilcan Bridge to wave farewell to competitive golf for the final time.

In front, alongside and behind him, three very different compatriots are threatening to mark that valediction in the most fitting of ways - by becoming the first Englishman to win The Open since Faldo, 23 years ago.

England's Danny Willett storms to Open lead

There is Luke Donald, back from the golfing boondocks to challenge again at the highest level, putting beautifully through Friday evening's bluster and chill to ease his way up the yellow leaderboard.

There is Justin Rose, looking to add to his US Open title, in Faldo's group over the first two days as well as following in his footsteps, also within four shots of the lead.

Most remarkably of all, there is the unheralded 27-year-old Danny Willett, not just mixing it with the best in the world but joint top of the leaderboard on nine under as Saturday's winds raged.

Redemption stories

Dustin Johnson

Three years ago at Royal Lytham & St Annes, Adam Scott led the field by four shots with four holes to play in the final round. The Australian, who is two off the lead on seven under, bogeyed all four, handing the Claret Jug to a bemused Ernie Els on a silver salver.

Four weeks ago at Chambers Bay, Dustin Johnson had a 12-foot putt on the 18th to win the US Open. He missed it, and then the subsequent three-foot birdie putt, to give Jordan Spieth his second major in two months.

Johnson moves into Open lead

The 31-year-old Johnson has plenty of previous: at the 2010 US PGA he led by a stroke on the final hole only to receive a two-stroke penalty for grounding his club in a bunker; at the 2011 Open, he went out of bounds at the 14th having charged up the leaderboard.

Should either man come through in the final stretches this time around - Johnson shared the lead going into Saturday's suspension - there would be few lining the Links Road who would begrudge them the triumph.

Local hero

The charming film of that name may have been set on the western coast of Scotland rather than the east of St Andrews, but in Paul Lawrie's inconspicuous stroll into contention over the first few days is a tale with just the same emotional resonance.

Lawrie's Open triumph 20 miles to the north at Carnoustie in 1999 is still unfairly asterisked in the minds of some, partly because he had never led or even shared the lead during the regulation 72 holes, partly because it is an Open remembered as much for Jean van de Velde tossing away a three-shot lead on the final hole.

Paul Lawrie tweet

That is both unfair on the Lawrie of that single day - who had been 10 shots off the lead as he began his final round - and the golfer he has been over his fuller career.

Aged 46, he is currently clear in third place, a single shot off the lead. He has been the best supported golfer on the links over the first few days; if he is still there come Monday's delayed denouement, expect a noise to exceed anything heard on a sun-kissed Sunday evening.

Spieth's greatest test

Ben Hogan

Jordan Spieth arrived on Scotland's exposed east coast looking to become the first man since Ben Hogan in 1953 to win the first three majors of the year.

That in itself has been a storyline to hang a championship on, even if the prospect of the 21-year-old then going on to become the first man to complete the Grand Slam in a year in the professional era is something for another day.

Spieth learned the game in the high winds of Texas. But he has never had to deal with the sort of conditions he has experienced here over the first few days, and watching such a talent flex under the fresh strain has told us almost as much about his fortitude as his performances under pressure at Augusta and Chambers Bay earlier in the year.

On Friday night he was clearly upset by the wobbles in his usually peerless putting. On Saturday morning he was heard complaining to playing partner Johnson that they should never have begun again.

And yet he is still lurking, still within four shots of the lead, still within touching distance of something no man his age has ever achieved.

Amateur hour

Paul Dunne
Irish amateur Paul Dunne plays from the rough during the first round of the 144th Open Championship

Even as many grizzled old pros struggled with St Andrews' weather on Thursday and Friday, men without their experience, wealth or billing found success amid the puddles and gusts.

Irish amateur Paul Dunne was three shots off the lead and safely in the clubhouse. Frenchman Romain Langasque was five under, American Jordan Niebrugge four under.

Those three amateurs are unlikely to be in the final reckoning come Monday. But each has already embossed the week: Niebrugge, the 21-year-old kid from Oklahoma State University, matching Spieth's first-round score; 22-year-old Dunne even leading in the early holes of Thursday morning.

"It's kind of a novelty thing for when I'm 70 years old," Dunne said afterwards, "sitting in a bar, having a pint, maybe telling someone that I led The Open."


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