Hold on to your hats – it’s the day Birkdale bit back
They say you never hear the shot that kills you. I’d rather not put it to the test again.
Was there the merest of whistles before the thud, as Jason Day’s ball fell out of the air and almost flattened me?
My golfing life started to flash before my eyes, and then quickly gave up. There were too many double bogeys.
Six inches the other way, though, and it could all have ended there – off the right side of the fairway on 15.
There are more heroic ways to go.
Philip Reid wasn’t quite so fortunate. The Irish Times reporter got one full in the face from Dustin Johnson on the 9th.
He received a signed ball for the rapidly rising swelling on the side of his bonce, but that doesn’t really seem like a fair trade.
Why him and not me? You must understand that when the wind blows at the Open, everything in the end comes down to luck.
This was the day Royal Birkdale bit back.
A day when a howling crosswind could make a bank of roof-fixed TVs in the Links Pavilion shake nervously, and when a host of contenders saw their chances explode in a barrage of double bogeys.
It’s such a weird feeling to experience.
Only at the Open can you be wearing three layers of clothing and a woolly hat while also applying sun cream.
But if it’s an inconvenience for spectators – and if you’ve seen how much you have to shell out for headwear then you definitely want to hold on to yours at all costs – it’s a dangerous enemy for a golfer.
It messes with your swing, your rhythm and, ultimately, your mind.
How else can you explain what happened to Paul Casey? One of the darlings of day one, he made eight bogeys in a soul destroying 77.
Adam Hadwin came back home in 47.
A guy who has got 59 on the PGA Tour wasn’t far away from pencilling that in again for nine holes here in Lancashire.
Bill Haas bogeyed five in a row from the 10th to the 14th and Tyrrell Hatton looked on the verge of losing his mind.
Hatton isn’t renowned for his poker face when things aren’t going to plan. It’s a look more akin to murderous rage.
As a short putt failed to find its home on the 14th – the latest mistake in a round that had produced five other bogeys and a double – Hatton walked head down to 15 looking utterly defeated.
This was an uncomfortable moment for both him and us. Have you ever seen 1,000 people all trying to avoid eye contact?
If I haven’t quite hammered it home enough, this is how hard it was.
On the 12th, on his way to a creditable 71 that did his chances of Claret Jug glory no harm, Matt Kuchar took aim at the packed galleries and held his breath.
“I must have aimed 30 yards left of the pin into the crowd, hit a shot, [it] started at the crowd and stayed at the crowd for a long time before finally the last, I’d say, 20 yards [it] started drifting over, and ended up in the middle of the green.”
Adam Scott, who recorded a 74, called it “a matter of survival”. Kevin Na, with a 75, said it was “a good day to sit at home and watch a movie”.
But they should all stop complaining. They had it easy compared to those who bore the brunt of the afternoon.
You don’t see these sort of conditions on Spring Break and Justin Thomas was in trouble the moment he dumped it in the cabbage on the opening hole.
When he went for a walk in the dunes once again, on the 6th, and left both club and ball in the grass after a hack out, it brought the curtain down on his chances at the Open.
Thomas stood at the side of the green, eyes darting all over the course and pointing. He was adding up his shots like a club golfer.
It was a nine, Justin.
As the rain lashed down and even brought a temporary suspension to play, Rory McIlroy could put his feet up and enjoy a little chuckle. He’ll never be able to complain about the draw again.
That said, in a 68 that continued his hot streak from yesterday afternoon, he hit two shots that made mouths open all over the course.
The first was a 372-yard 3-wood on the opening hole that left him with no more than a half chip in.
But the coup de grace came on the 17th.
Everyone was laying up at the par 5. Not Rory. He smacked a 1-iron so far it didn’t just hit the green, it cleared it.
So as those who came before licked their wounds, everyone still out on course battened down the hatches and called for the doctor.
Don’t worry, it’s a bit brighter tomorrow.
If you are here, of course.
For more from Royal Birkdale, check out our dedicated Open site.