CARNOUSTIE, Scotland — A parched Carnoustie Golf Links got a much needed drink on Friday when a steady morning rain fell during the second round of the Open Championship. The water did little to change the course’s appearance—they’d need a hurricane for that—but was enough to require players to reboot regarding their approach on the links, knowing balls wouldn’t bound quite so far down the fairways and around the greens.
For some, the change was a welcome one. Zach Johnson said he was able to employ a more consistent strategy off the tee on Friday, when he shot a four-under 67 to take a share of the 36-hole lead.
“It seems to me with the exception of maybe one hole today, it was very apparent what club I needed to hit off the tee box,” Johnson said. “Yesterday it was much more trying. Is it an 8-iron off the tee box? Is it a 5-iron off the tee box? Is it a hybrid? Is it a driver? I mean, that's also the beauty of this championship, especially at this venue, because it's all of it. All of it. You can hit any of those clubs. You've just got to hit it straight.”
More shot-maker than bomber, Johnson leaned on his driver more than the previous day, not quite as nervous about the trouble that lurked just off the fairway on certain holes.
Rory McIlroy agreed with Johnson’s assessment that with a bit less fire in the fairways, the decision off the tee was made easier. But for him, it meant leaving the driver in the bag more than he had on Friday, pounding his ball over and past fairway bunkers no longer quite so easy. He used the driver just six times before finishing with a second straight two-under 69.
That’s not to say McIlroy was happy with the need to hold back. On the contrary, he feels that the baked-out conditions at Carnoustie play to his strength of being long and, often, straight off the tee.
Other pros agreed that the added moisture created new challenges in how to play an already challenging course.
“I thought today was the biggest adaptation for the whole week,” said Kevin Kisner, whose Friday 70 left him tied for the lead with Johnson (with whom he is coincidentally sharing a house). “It played way softer off the tee today, and we hit way more club than we did all week off the tee. Ball wasn't chasing 30 yards or 40 yards like it had been.”
It caused Kisner to hit a 3-wood off the tee on the first hole, rather than a 5-iron on Thursday, while still hitting the same club for his approach. Similarly, he went up from 4-iron to 3-wood on the ninth hole.
“There was just a lot of that today,” Kisner said.
In the afternoon, however, the rain subsided. And with little in the forecast for the weekend, chances are the strategy of playing a dry course will return on the weekend, something McIlroy looks forward to.
“If it’s dry and it’s a little warmer, you’re flying those bunkers. And then especially with the moisture on the club face and the ball, it just wasn’t worth it. But when I did hit driver today, I hit it well, so that was a good thing. So if the conditions do change and go back to the way they were yesterday, I’d see myself hitting a lot more drivers again, yeah.”