Steady Snedeker charges to lead at erratic Open

Published 8:50 am Sunday, July 22, 2012

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England (AP) — On a day filled with wayward shots, Brandt Snedeker was steady as can be at the British Open.

The 31-year-old American, who has never made the cut in golf’s oldest major, surged to a four-stroke lead Friday before many of the other contenders even got on the course at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.

Following a 4-under 66 in the opening round, Snedeker kept up his assault on the fairways, knocked in four birdies and made the turn with a 4-under 30. He rolled in a 25-footer for another birdie at the par-5 11th, then put his tee shot in the middle of the green on the par-3 12th and calmly sank the putt — his sixth birdie of the round, pushing his score to 10 under.

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First-round leader Adam Scott, who tied the course record with a 64 on Thursday, had an afternoon tee time. So did many of the others who stood out on Day 1, including Paul Lawrie (65), Zach Johnson (65), Tiger Woods (67), Ernie Els (67), Bubba Watson (67) and Graeme McDowell (67) — all of them past major winners.

Woods, of course, has 14 major titles but hasn’t captured one since the 2008 U.S. Open.

Everyone was chasing Snedeker, who is best remembered for making anemotional run at the 2008 Masters and winding up in a tie for third. Otherwise, he’s never been much of a factor in the majors; in fact, he was 0-for-3 making the cut at his previous British Opens.

That shouldn’t be a problem this time, not the way he was playing. He had yet to make a bogey through his first 30 holes at Royal Lytham and showed everyone that there were plenty of birdies to be had if you kept the ball in the fairway.

For many players, that proved to be elusive.

Rory McIlroy, who opened with a 67, knocked his ball onto an adjoining tee box at No. 3, needed a couple of whacks to escape a towering pot bunker on the ninth, and was struggling along at 4 over on the day as he approached the end of his round.

Phil Mickelson, the runner-up last year at Royal St. George but never an Open champion, was already warming up the jet after three double-bogeys pushed his total score to 9 over, making him a likely cut victim.

And no one took a bigger tumble than the big-hitting Belgian, Nicolas Colsaerts, who had surprised in the opening round with a 65. He fell apart Friday, running into trouble right away with back-to-back bogeys at Nos. 2 and 3 before making a total mess of the par-5 seventh, normally one of the easier holes on the course.

His third shot missed the green, winding up in the dreaded rough. He flubbed his attempted escape, the ball going 10 yards and still in the tall grass. Barely able to see it, Colsaerts took another big swing and apparently missed. Finally, he chunked it out on his third try, the ball zipping over the green. A pitch and a putt left him with a triple-bogey 8. He was 6 over for the day and just trying to get back to the clubhouse.

World No. 1 Luke Donald gave the English fans a thrill with four birdies in five holes on the front side, pushing him onto the leaderboard at 3 under.

“Luuuuuke!” the gallery chanted after Donald rolled one in at No. 8 and pumped his fist.

But Donald dropped back with a couple of bogeys on his return leg, including a sloppy approach shot at the 13th that rocketed through the green and disappeared into an especially tall patch of grass. Unable to play it, he had to take a one-stroke penalty.

The erratic play was a striking contrast to the opening round. While Scott was grabbing the lead, 52 other players shot no worse than par. For the first time since 1998, no one in the 156-player field opened with a score in the 80s.

“It was just like a nice walk in the park,” Scott said.

After heavy rain overnight inundated the course, turning some bunkers into ponds and prompting the R&A to request fans delay their arrival so the grounds could dry out, the second round began as scheduled under sunny, blue skies. There was just a hint of the feared breezes off the Irish Sea that give the links course its bite, thought the skies began to darken in the afternoon and, as usual, spit out the occasional showers.

The rain that has soaked Britain throughout the spring and summer largely stayed away Thursday, only to return with a vengeance during the night. One of the main spectator gates was closed at the start of play as workers furiously tried to push away all the standing water.

“We’ve had far more rain overnight than we were expecting, unfortunately,” R&A chief executive Peter Dawson told BBC Radio. “But the course can take it as the drainage here is good. There is some standing water, but we can play golf, and the rules of golf will deal with the casual water.”

The bunkers were the main issue. Already vulnerable to flooding because of the closeness of the sea and rains that have been over the top even by the standards of this water-logged nation, several traps had been transformed into mini-ponds by the latest batch of showers. PGA champion Keegan Bradley had to hit one of his bunker shots out of a couple of inches of water because there was no place to drop it.

There was also some standing water in the fairways, which the players tiptoed through after hitting their shots.