FIRST the Old Course was too easy, then it was too hard.
After spectacularly low scoring on the opening day of the Open Championship at St Andrews, the notoriously fickle Fife weather tormented those players who had the misfortune to tee off after lunch yesterday. Play was suspended for more than an hour because of winds that gusted above 40mph, moving players' balls on the greens, and reputations were shredded.
Poor Rory McIlroy, who started the day with a smile on his face after recording an opening round of 63, nine under par, had his title hopes blown off course. The Holywood native had four bogeys on the front nine before his round fell apart altogether at the 11th, where a controversial pin position and the raging wind conspired to produce a double-bogey five.
Those who went out early in the day were the fortunate ones. Louis Oosthuizen, of South Africa, started two strokes behind McIlroy but benefited from a 6.41am tee time. He had seven birdies in a round of 67 that took him to 12 under par, and a position of strength at the top of the leaderboard that improved with every passing hour.
Five strokes behind Oosthuizen is Mark Calcavecchia, the 1989 Open champion, who started even earlier and also had a round of 67, while Paul Casey and Lee Westwood, the Englishmen, were glad that they were given a morning start, making 69 and 71 respectively to reach six under par. All they had to contend with was driving rain, but that was preferable to the cruel wind.
"The flags were limp and I took advantage of it," Casey said. "I'd much rather have the rain and fairly calm conditions. It's much tougher this afternoon."
Graeme McDowell, who won the US Open last month, was another player to do well from an early tee time. He had a 71 in the first round but a 68 yesterday to move into the top ten. He talked about the prospect of "wreckage" in the afternoon. "There's plenty of deep coffin-like bunkers to bury wreckage in," he said.
It was King Lear weather -- "blow, winds, and crack your cheeks" -- and the Royal and Ancient Club had no alternative but to stop play for just over an hour at 2.30pm, when balls started moving on the greens at the farthest part of the course. It was the first time since 1998 that play had been suspended at an Open because of the weather.
Defending the suspension, David Rickman, the rules director for the Royal and Ancient, said: "It was not so much the average speed as the gusts that were the issue.
"What we had round about 2.30pm was a series of gusts in excess of 40 miles per hour."
Balls were moving on five of the holes, he said. "That took it from being challenging to being a lottery."
It is ironic that only 24 hours earlier, there had been complaints that the Old Course was toothless after McIlroy tore up the record book.
McIlroy woke up today still clinging to the hope he can get back into contention. But after his crushing second-round 80 -- a massive 17 more strokes than he took on Thursday -- McIlroy knows he has gone from favourite to long-shot.
The 21-year-old was one of the biggest casualties of winds gusting to 40mph, going from two ahead of Oosthuizen to 11 behind him.
Down in 38th place when the second round was called off for darkness last night, McIlroy tried his best to look on the bright side.
"If you take out Louis and Calc (Mark Calcavecchia is in second spot, five back) I'm only five shots out," he said.
"If the weather is quite calm I feel as if I've got a chance to go low, even a little bit of wind. But when it's wind like this you're relying on other players to make mistakes. It was just very, very difficult out there and I let it get away from me a little bit.
"I actually did well to par the last three holes, if I'm totally honest. It could have been an 82 or an 83.
"I'm here for the weekend so it's not all bad, but definitely a complete contrast. I don't think they should have called us off the golf course. 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.
"I'm not trying to make any excuses. Even from then I didn't hit it well and didn't put myself in the right places to try and make any birdies or make some sort of a score. It's going to be tough. It all depends what the weather is like again.
Among the tales of horror were Paul Lawrie, the 1999 champion, who had a 69 in the first round and an 82 in the second, and Nick Faldo, winner of three Open Championships, who followed a 72 with an 81.