Greg Norman and David Duval
Time warp, anyone? If you had this 53-year-old and 36-year-old to be in second place and T-4, respectively after 36 holes of the British Open, you are certifiably prescient--or maybe just certifiable. Norman putted like it was 1986, holing crucial putts on the last three holes for two pars and a bogey. Duval, who has battled injury and been concentrating on his family life in recent years, has had only one top-20 finish in a major championship since 2001, the year he won the Open and finished second in the Masters. This year he arrived at Royal Birkdale having missed the cut in 11 of 12 PGA Tour events and finishing T-60 in the other.
The 26-year-old is playing his first British Open, but he did compete in two British Amateurs--at Hoylake and Royal County Down. Links golf certainly suited him Friday, as he blazed to the finish with five consecutive birdies to shoot a five-under 65 and finished the second round two shots out of the lead. A dashing player with explosive power, Villegas had a poor record in his first seven career majors but changed that with a T-9 in the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. If his golf the next two days is anything like his quintet of birdies Friday, everyone will know his name--and how to pronounce it (bee-Jay-gus).
Conditions were more docile Friday, and a number of players took advantage of them to bounce back from desultory opening rounds. Scott Verplank (77-67) topped the list and is at four-over 144. Others turning it around to make the cut included Phil Mickelson (79-68), Ernie Els (80-69), Anders Hansen (78-68), Justin Leonard (77-70), Ben Curtis (78-69), Doug LaBelle II (78-70), Craig Parry (77-70), Steve Stricker (77-71) and Wen-chong Liang (77-71). Els would have had the best round-two comeback, 12 shots, if not for a missed short par putt at the 18th hole. Vijay Singh also had a good recovery (80-71), but it wasn't good enough to make the cut.
The Spaniard is lurking within striking distance at five-over 145, but the 2007 Open runner-up sure didn't go to dinner with a good taste his mouth. It wasn't exactly like Hale Irwin's whiff of a two-inch putt at the 1983 Birkdale Open, but Garcia--attempting to stay out of his fellow competitors' line on the 18th green--took an awkward stance and missed a par putt of less than 18 inches. For a superior ball-striker whose putting keeps him from winning more often, it was a careless and discouraging way to end the day.
The consistent Cink has had a formidable 2008 season, winning once and finishing in the top 10 on 7 occasions, including a T-3 at the Masters plus a T-14 at the U.S. Open. He didn't have the magic through two rounds at Birkdale, however, shooting 75-75 to miss the cut. Hole Nos. 10 through 15 were a killer for Cink, who played them in a cumulative seven over.
Tom Watson and Mark O'Meara
Two former winners at Birkdale (Watson, 1983 and O'Meara, 1998) perservered through a tough opening day to post 74s. But in calmer weather Friday, they shot 76 and 77, respectively to miss the cut and can start preparing early for next week's Senior British Open at Royal Troon, where both should be among the favorites. Before then, Watson, who hit the ball crisply but was dragged down by his putter, will call shots instead of hitting them in a commentary role for TNT/ABC this weekend.