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The Open: McIlroy given a real kicking by Old Lady

By Karl MacGinty

There was one moment of relief for Rory McIlroy yesterday in a day of appalling attrition for the Holywood youngster at St Andrews.

As McIlroy walked after his opening tee shot of the second round, US Open champion, Graeme McDowell strode over the Swilken Bridge and up the 18th fairway, his day's work was almost done.

These two good friends made a beeline for each other and in the vast expanse of golf's most famous arena, locked right hands in a high-five and paused long enough to exchange best wishes.

Neither man knew it but their brief encounter would signal the changing of the Irish guard at the 2010 Open.

Not to mention the horrors which 21-year old McIlroy would face on the links as he stumbled to an eight-over par 80.

McDowell would replace McIlroy as Ireland's leading challenger on five-under par, seven behind leader Louis Oosthuizen, as the young Ulsterman endured the most harrowing collapse in the 150-year history of The Open.

Twenty four hours earlier, he'd impishly danced rings around the defenceless Old Lady of St Andrews with a scintillating 63, which equalled the lowest round in Major Championship history, she wreaked terrible revenge on McIlroy.

The 17 shot difference between McIlroy's first and second rounds is three shy of the all-time record at the Open and Colin Montgomerie shot a third round 84 after illuminating the 2002 Open at Muirfield with his 64 on Friday.

And McIlroy certainly didn't suffer the fate of Aussie Rod Pampling, who led after a 71 on Thursday at Carnoustie in 1999 and would miss the cut after a calamitous 86 the following afternoon.

He easily made the final two rounds on one-under par, even if his dreams of Open glory have been shattered.

To his credit, the youngster managed to put on a brave face, attending a packed media conference less than 10 minutes after the greatest reverse in his career.

“I guess I just two-putted for a good 80,” he joked, adding with a shrug: “It was just a difficult day out there and I think everyone out there found it hard in the afternoon. I'm just glad I'm still here for the weekend. A lot of big players have missed the cut.”

That fate seemed almost certain to befall Padraig Harrington as the badly off-colour Dubliner tumbled out of the Championship on seven-over par after an unsatisfactory second round 78.

Yet some managed to batten down the hatches, Darren Clarke doing so brilliantly as he moved to two under for his round in the worst of the weather with back-to-back birdies at 13 and 14.

That birdie at 13 was achieved in truly sensational fashion as he holed a 40 yards putt, the 41-year-old veteran's getting blown off by the wind for good measure as he celebrated this wonderful effort.

Clarke was level with Tiger Woods on four-under as darkness drew the second round to a premature close. While, Woods kept this hopes of an unprecedented third Open victory at St Andrews alive with a stout second round 73, Clarke must return this morning at 6.30 to play the final three holes of his round.

McIlroy had absolutely no inkling of the horror to come as he stood in the fourth fairway and the hooters sounded, signaling a 65 minutes break in play as the wild west wind, gusting to 41 mph, was blowing balls off the exposed 11th green.

Stressing that he “didn't want to make excuses”, the youngster still questioned the logic of this halt in play. “When we got back out there the conditions hadn't changed, the wind probably got a little bit worse. It probably wasn't a smart move.”

McIlroy dropped his first shot at this Open within moments of the restart, hitting his 7-iron approach into a hollow to the left of the fourth green. When his putt scuttled 20 feet past and McIlroy missed the one back, the bleeding started.

He dropped another shot out of deep rough at the sixth; took bogey after a visit to the long grass and then a deep greenside bunker at seven and slipped to four-over after missing the green at the par three eighth.

While an eagle two at the 352 ninth hole had lit the afterburners for McIlroy's rocket ride to the top of the leaderboard in the first round, missing a five foot putt for birdie there yesterday must have broken his heart.

Further tragedy came at the short 11th, which McIlroy double-bogeyed. A three-putt bogey followed at 13 and his misery was further compounded when he lipped-out from less than three feet for par at 15.

Yet he'd express pride at finishing off this terrible day with three straight pars.

Spared the carnage wreaked by the howling gales which roared across St Andrews and turned the 2010 Open into a lottery, McDowell rediscovered some of the form and focus which stood him so well at Pebble Beach as he posted the second round 68, seven shy of leader Luis Oosthuizen.

Oostwhozen? The South African, 27, who won April's Open de Andalucia, made the cut just once in eight previous visits to golf's Major Championships, finishing 73rd behind Harrington in the 2008 US PGA at Oakland Hills.

Yet he'd literally sail under the wind as he followed up Thursday's 65 with a stellar second round 67.

Meanwhile, victory tomorrow would not be his first on a classic links course.

Oosthuizen swooped the Irish Amateur Open title at Royal Dublin in 2002.

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