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Jordan Spieth has Open wind in his sails as poor weather wreaks havoc

 

By Liam Kelly

Mother Nature and Old Man Par teamed up to form a daunting partnership which wreaked havoc on the 156 competitors in the Open Championship yesterday.

Wind buffeted and tormented the morning groups. Later in the afternoon, the torrential downpours that had been forecast days ago arrived on schedule to make for a frustrating Friday that ended the involvement of many top stars in this tournament.

The course par of 70 at this fair but exacting test of skill, strategy and nerve also held up, with just nine players in red numbers at the end of a challenging but fascinating day's golf.

By the late evening, as the back markers straggled up the 18th in pouring rain, there was one shining light at the head of the leaderboard - Jordan Spieth.

The baby-faced Texan, all of 23 years young, belies his youthfulness with a hard-nosed toughness, mental and physical, and he is a man on a mission this week.

Spieth took all that the course, the weather and the opposition could throw at him, and fought his way into a two-shot lead.

A 69 for 134, six shots below the par mark, represented a good day's work, leaving him in pole position for what is sure to be an epic 36 holes to come.

A two-time Major winner in 2015, he came agonisingly close to a third consecutive title that year when he missed out on a play-off for The Open at St Andrews by a shot.

Spieth has given himself a fighting chance of going all the way this week, and he will take that at the halfway stage.

Matt Kuchar's record of played 12 Opens, missed the cut in six of them before this one would not inspire confidence that he can go the whole way, but hats off to the ever popular "Kooch", he earned his right with rounds of 65 and 71.

Recently-crowned US Open champion Brooks Koepka joined home favourite Ian Poulter on two-under, scoring 72 and 70 respectively.

And lurking in the one-under par group is Rory McIlroy, who declared himself "ecstatic" at his turnaround in fortunes, going from early despair on Thursday to a very satisfactory one-under after yesterday's 68.

Sadly, the luck of the Irish ran out for Padraig Harrington, Shane Lowry and Darren Clarke as they fought a losing battle to join McIlroy at the business end of the Open Championship.

Harrington, who had hoped for a chance to make a decent run at his return to the course where he won the Claret Jug in 2008, missed the cut by just a shot, ending his challenge with a second consecutive 73 for six-over.

He made a late bid to save himself, attempting to hole a pitch from 20 yards for birdie at the 18th.

The ball looked on target when it was in the air, but dropped a couple of inches from the cup.

"It looked good. It was the right half of the hole. I thought it was going to break right to left instead of left to right.

"If it kept going straight it was in. It looked like it was going in alright. Story of my day," said Harrington.

Harrington's round got off to a bad start, taking three putts in a double-bogey six at the second hole, and making bogey at the third, again with a three-putt, but despite his disappointment, he was philosophical about the outcome.

"You're giving a lot up at the start. If you want to play well in these conditions, you get one ahead early and you feel you've got something in the bank," he said.

"I played grand, but I only made two birdies in two days. Between now and Birkdale the last time I was here (2008) I probably got the average amount of breaks, so I'll take it that it went this way.

"I'd rather have them all in one week and none in the next. Things didn't go right this time."

Clarke's 75, 73 left him out of the weekend on eight-over, while Lowry filed 72, 78 for 10-over.

And so to young Master Spieth. The big features of his round were a chip-in par save at the 10th, and a pivotal eagle three on the par-5 15th.

That eagle was sandwiched between bogeys on the 14th and 16th holes, so it could prove to be a very important hole when the scores are totted up tomorrow evening.

"I hit it low off the heel, which is easy to do when you're trying to carve a cut. And it just - one hop, scooted around the group of bunkers there, and then it was obviously fortunate to get all the way to the green, and keep on going towards the green instead of over towards the left bunker. It was really nice to capitalise on it," he said.

"I knew after it had missed that bunker it was going to be pretty good. I had a reaction that I think kind of told what the shot was, which I knew it was pretty lucky.

"We got away with one there. And I was able to knock that putt in, get me to seven-under, which was a place I didn't think I'd get to starting the day.

"And we got in at six, and it was a very, very solid day. I'm very pleased with the score."

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