Monday 22 January 2018

'Course on the edge of unplayable,' declares McDowell as he stays in title hunt

Karl MacGinty

BRANDT SNEDEKER notably avoided all of Lytham's bunkers during his mesmeric first two rounds at The Open... but Graeme McDowell made no effort to tiptoe around the controversy stirred by too many waterlogged traps on the links.

Minutes after propelling himself into contention for a second Major title with yesterday's sturdy second-round 69, McDowell called for flooded bunkers to be taken out of play, describing them as unfair. Water up to several inches deep lay in many of Lytham's traps yesterday and players were given just three options -- literally splash out; take a free drop and risk being plugged in the soggy sand or take a drop under penalty outside of the 'hazard'.

After the wettest summer on record, Lancashire's Irish Sea coast has been lashed by heavy rainstorms all week and McDowell insisted: "A few of those bunkers are a little bit of a question mark but we're lucky we're playing.

"The golf course is on the edge of unplayable. I'm sure in other parts of the world, if this was a normal tournament, some of those bunkers would be marked as 'Ground Under Repair'.

"I saw one in particular left of the 16th green, if you hit it in there, there's nowhere to drop and there's a foot of water. That's not golf, it's not fair," added McDowell.

"A few of these bunkers that are question marks need to be taken out of play. Hopefully, they can get them dried out overnight. The golf course has remained unbelievably dry considering how much rain we've had but the bunkers are a little dodgy in some places, unfortunately."

McDowell (32), expressed the mood of many, though not all, of his colleagues in the locker room... and, as a Major champion, his words carry some weight.

Crowned US Open champion at Pebble Beach in 2010 and Europe's Ryder Cup match-clincher at Celtic Manor that September, McDowell plans to put his experience to work today and tomorrow as he bids for his second Major title.

Nashville native Snedeker's performance was as smooth as any headline act at the Grand Ole Opry as he swept into the Open lead on 10-under par, one clear of Adam Scott.

As he equalled the Australian's course record 64 yesterday, Snedeker (31), became the second man in history to go bogey-free through the first 36 holes at a Major, emulating the effort of Tiger Woods at St Andrews in 2000.

When added to Thursday's opening 66, his aggregate 130 strokes matched the all-time low for the opening two rounds at The Open set by Nick Faldo at Muirfield in 1992.

"I'm sure everybody here is as much in shock as I am now," said the likeable American. "I've gotten fortunate. When I haven't driven it in play, I've been able to get it up and down around the greens this week -- and my iron play has been pretty. I call it boring golf."

Snedeker knows what it's like to contend at a Major, having gone into the final round of the 2008 Masters two shy of leader Trevor Immelman. That ended in tears, literally, after he shot a heart-rending 77 to cede the Green Jacket to the South African.

He won his third PGA Tour title at The Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines in February, insisting reports he'd been given a combine harvester were way off the mark -- he received a surf-board with his $1m-plus winners cheque instead.

Yet Tiger Woods is a clear favourite to harvest a 15th Major title this weekend after stirring loud echoes of former glories yesterday by holing from a greenside bunker at 18 for the birdie which lifted him into third on six-under.

During his two rounds of 67, Woods has played almost with the same surgical precision which characterised his most recent victory Open victory at Hoylake in 2006.

If Tiger's dander is up, McDowell, in a five-way tie for fifth on four-under, will not be intimidated as he steadily glides into top gear following a confidence-building second place at last month's US Open.

Sadly, Darren Clarke became the first defending champion to miss the cut in 11 Open Championships at Lytham. His frustration with an ice-cold putter crystalised on the final green as he missed from 30-inches for par, a 71 leaving him seven-over.

British Amateur Champion Alan Dunbar missed the cut by three on six-over, but still gave a polished display during yesterday's 71. Though he's agreed to join Clarke at English management company, ISM, Dunbar's in no rush to turn pro and will play next week's Austrian Open as an amateur.

Michael Hoey simply lost his swing and was marooned on 14-over after yesterday's 75.

Irish Independent

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