Another early morning and another round of the Open Championship delivering the goods. The stacked leaderboard bodes well for the weekend at Royal Portrush. Here are five assorted thoughts from Friday:
On Westy Island
I don’t want to jinx him, but these kinds of performances are almost unique to the Open Championship: an aging star of yesteryear finds his game and makes a magical run. The best news is that these days, we’re more emotionally invested in Westy than he is in himself. After the round, he summed up his outlook: “I literally don’t care.”
Benign conditions in Northern Ireland have made for a bunched leaderboard. Any of the 24 players within five shots of the lead heading into Moving Day have a real shot. Things could go really sideways if we get winds tomorrow afternoon. At the moment, the forecast calls for sunny skies and winds around 15 mph. These conditions should dry out and speed up the Dunluce Links and give us a little more clarity as to which players are truly golfing their ball.
An uninspiring close
Shane Lowry is your co-leader. Coming out of the gates hot, Lowry looked like he might run away from the field. Something changed on the back nine, however. We saw a different player, one clinging for dear life. His final few holes were a clinic in scrambling, as he made a series of impeccable up-and-downs.
While his slappy finish might indicate that Lowry will trend down, you can never discount a player who has been there. Yes, he struggled in his last opportunity at the 2016 U.S. Open, but most players fail in majors before they succeed. The big Irishman will certainly have the fans behind him. The question is, will his game hold up?
Stalking the leaderboard is Brooks Koepka, who sits three back of Lowry. A Koepka surge on the weekend seems inevitable. Yet we’re seeing a slightly different version of Brooks. He hasn’t been as sharp from tee to green as we’ve grown to expect. On the tournament, he’s hitting 67.86% of his fairways and 69.44% of his greens, slightly better than average. These are stats he has dominated in his major wins. Regardless of whether those numbers improve, the most fascinating thing to watch this weekend will be a potential “Brooks Effect,” à la Tiger in his prime. Will competitors hear footsteps even if the four-time major champion doesn’t have his A game?
Jordan Spieth’s style of play couldn’t be more different than Koepka’s. When I watch Brooks, I often wonder how could he ever play poorly; when I watch Spieth, I wonder how he could ever play well. In rounds like Jordan’s on Friday, he appears to hold together his game with duct tape. It’s one tear away from falling apart—and lately we have seen what it looks like when Spieth falls apart. For this reason, he is one of golf’s most compelling characters. He’s the foil to the traditional modern star. Even as he does inhuman things, he always looks human.
The root cause of Spieth’s vulnerability is his balky driver, which can make us forget the fact that when he’s on, nobody is better at every other aspect of the game. We caught a glimpse of that fact today. He was all over the map on Day 2, but his approaches and putting were stellar.