The second round morning session at the British Open is coming to a close, with Muirfield once again winning the battle against the best players in the world. Tiger Woods is tied with Lee Westwood for the 36-hole clubhouse lead at 2-under, but some shaky putting prevented a charge up the board at leader Zach Johnson. With conditions getting tougher by the minute however, Johnson, and Phil Mickelson, may be coming back to the pack as the afternoon groups get out on the course. Here's what you missed while you were sleeping:
Tiger's putter prevents Friday charge
It seemed like all the ingredients were there for a Tiger move to the top of the leaderboard. And with the way he started striping his irons early, it looked like he would have a share of the lead before the American audience was out of bed. Tiger was placing his approach shots in all the right places, safely on the correct side of the pins where he could make a run at birdie and make easier pars. A dart into the par-4 third resulted in an easy birdie putt and Woods was off and running ... for 10 minutes, at least. On the very next hole, Woods missed what is the definition of a bunny putt -- it was not more than three feet and probably closer to two feet.
That three-putt left Woods muttering under his breath, but with the way he was hitting his irons, it was surely just a minor blip. After nearly making eagle on No. 5, however, Woods once again missed from inside three feet to give another shot right back:
That three-putt bogey on No. 8 would wipe out all the efforts he made early with his irons, and Tiger would make the turn in even-par 36.
It didn't get any easier on the back nine, which is where Woods made his run one day earlier. Both around the green and on the green, it was a constant grind as he gripped the putter a little tighter on each hole. A poor chip shot which he ran 15 feet past the hole led to another bogey at No. 11. It was clear to everyone watching that the short game was the one thing holding him back:
Tiger doesn't look comfortable on or around the greens. He's grinding so hard on every putt—respect the effort but it's exhausting to watch.— Alan Shipnuck (@AlanShipnuck) July 19, 2013
But even after all that grinding, Tiger still finished with the low 36-hole number of 2-under by draining a birdie on the 18th. That red number completed an even-round 71, which could be one of the low rounds of the day once the afternoon wave navigates some increasingly rough conditions at Muirfield.
Westy goes low
Rory's bad week not getting better
Darren Clarke's wild ride
Well before 5 a.m. ET, it looked like the Northern Irishman would be the one making the big move up the leaderboard and into contention for his second Open in the last three years. Clarke began the day with three birdies in his first five holes, moving inside the top five. But it all came undone on No. 6, which was the hardest hole on the course early this morning. Clarke made a quadruple bogey thanks to an adventure off the fairway and into the heather, and then getting trapped in a greenside pot bunker. It took Clarke three hacks to get it out of the sand, and he walked off with four shots dropped:
To his credit, Clarke did not completely fold after that mess, making two more birdies and avoiding another bogey until the last.
Jordan Spieth blows up down the stretch
The 19-year-old Spieth, who earned a late invite on Sunday with his first career PGA Tour victory, was the biggest story of the early morning. Spieth looked like a veteran Open player, getting to 3-under and in third place on the back nine. But more importantly than the birdies, Spieth was avoiding the large numbers:
Spieth had played 11 of his last 13 competitive rounds under par, and was on his way to another low number and perch near the top of the leaderboard. It unraveled, however, over the last four holes as he played Nos. 15 through 17 in 4-over to fall off the first page of the board. At 1-over he's still in it, but that last stretch in Friday's round could be a critical blow to serious contention. By his own admission, Spieth has far surpassed expectations for this first season, which he started without a full-time card. So the finish needs to be put in perspective, but given the way things were rolling for a majority of the round, it's still disappointing for the teenager.
Brutal conditions persist, potential afternoon carnage
The course setup was the biggest story on Thursday, with most players commenting on the borderline pin placements on greens that were completely baked out and running like concrete. The R&A did water the putting surfaces overnight, but now the wind is up on the Scottish coast and things aren't getting any easier, as some thought it would after the players' outcries yesterday. That could make for an interesting afternoon at Muirfield:
@RobertLusetich Phil is probably at his hotel, watching the tough conditions on TV, and psyching himself out. But I hope not.— Steve Elling (@EllingYelling) July 19, 2013
Up next: How will Phil handle the windy afternoon conditions? Will there be another Rory train wreck? Can Zach Johnson hang on, or add to his lead?