Jordan Spieth takes two-shot lead into weekend play at the British Open

It was a scene repeated time and again Friday as winds off the Irish Sea whipped across Royal Birkdale, buffeting the British Open grandstands and turning would-be solid shots into physics-defying banana balls. A player would hit his tee shot, watch it bend vigorously to the right or left, then shoot his arm out to the side to warn spectators a ball was coming their way.

With gusts of 30-plus mph, and sheets of rain in the late afternoon, the tournament’s second round was closer to round fore.

Jordan Spieth shot a one-under-par 69 to hang on to what had been a three-way tie for the lead when the day began. He is at six under, two strokes better than fellow American Matt Kuchar. Brooks Koepka and Ian Poulter are tied for third at three under heading into the weekend.

Spieth, who played in the afternoon, said he was “very satisfied” to be leading at this point and he would have gladly stayed on the couch and accepted even par if he could have. He wound up doing one better.

“Not on the good end of the draw, but we seem to have grinded it out,” he said. “I don't know if we'd be in any better score if I was on the other side of the draw. You just don't know where your breaks fall and where they don't.”

There were 39 players under par to begin the day, and just nine to end it. Ten players finished Friday at even par. Play was suspended for 10 minutes at 5:30 p.m. local time because of heavy rain.

“A good day to sit at home and watch a movie,” said American Kevin Na, whose 68 and 75 put him at three over in a field where the cut was five over.

Scotsman Martin Laird, whose score ballooned from 68 on Thursday to 79 on Friday, missed the cut.

“With this wind,” he said, “this golf course is just a beast.”

Somehow, Kuchar tamed the beast — or at least survived it. He was in a three-way tie for first at five under after the opening round, then took a baby step backward with a one-over 71 in the second, finishing his round by midday before the really nasty stuff in the afternoon, when at times spectators had to hold their umbrellas sideways to stay dry.

“I think that's one of the cool things over here, whether it's Thursday or Friday, whatever your morning round is, getting to go back to the room, put on the TV and watch the guys play in the afternoon, and particularly in tough conditions,” said Kuchar, who twice dropped to six under Friday but gave those strokes back with bogeys.

“What stood out to me was the 12th hole, it was a par-three,” Kuchar said. “I think it was playing about 162 yards today. Wind was in off the left. I pulled a five-iron. And there's a hill right of the green with nasty, weedy grass that you just don't want to be in. So I must have aimed 30 yards left of the pin into the crowd, hit a shot, started at the crowd, and stayed at the crowd for a long time before finally the last, I'd say, 20 yards started drifting over, and ended up in the middle of the green.”

Two putts, and par.

Not everyone was able to compensate for the wind with such aplomb. There were the rare exceptions, such as Zach Johnson shooting a 66, but there were blue (bogey) and dark blue (double bogey) numbers all over the scoreboard. Phil Mickelson, looking to scramble back after a disappointing opening round, went birdie, par, triple-bogey, birdie — underscoring the spin-the-wheel randomness of the day — before his round unraveled with six bogeys on the back nine.

“It's just one of those things where if it starts going bad in these conditions, it's just going to go bad,” said Mickelson, who finished at 10 over for the tournament and missed the cut. “It's not that big a deal. Unfortunately, it's the first cut I've missed this year and I missed it with flair.”

Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, who won the British Open in 2014, was crashing in spectacular fashion Thursday when he opened by bogeying five of the first six holes. He climbed back, though, with four birdies on the back nine to finish at one over.

A turning point came after the sixth hole, when McIlroy’s caddy, J.P. Fitzgerald, spoke up. “You’re Rory McIlroy! What the … are you doing?”

“I said, `Yeah,’” McIlroy said. “At that point I mumbled and said, `Whatever.’ But it did, it helped. It definitely helped. It kept me positive. So he did a great job.”

On Friday, he looked like the old McIlroy again, with birdies on three of the first six holes. He cooled a bit on the back with a couple of bogeys, but added one final birdie to end the day at one under.

Poulter finished second in the Open here in 2008 but has not won a tournament since 2012 and nearly lost his PGA Tour card this year. He was sidelined for four months with a foot injury last year, and, having dropped out of the top 50, had to play his way into the tournament by winning one of three qualifying spots at Woburn, England.

The Englishman shot even par Friday to put him near the top of the leaderboard at three under, and the fans showed their appreciation.

“It feels absolutely marvelous, it really does,” he said. “Walking up 18, just walking from greens to tees was really pretty special today. Huge galleries and they were really pulling for me. So it was really nice to be in position, keep churning out decent scores and keeping myself on the board.”

Poulter was especially touched that a young fan, maybe 5 or 6, followed him at the ropes for his entire match, braving the storm to watch him play.

“He was in a little yellow jacket, it was pouring down with rain, he didn't have an umbrella, but with his dad,” Poulter said. “And he kept saying, `Come on, Poults. Come on, Poults.’ I mean, that's nice.

“These fans are hardened fans to any kind of condition, and for them to stay out in these cold, windy, rainy conditions, it's special. And they definitely help you along the way. Because it's not easy out there right now.”

sam.farmer@latimes.com

Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesfarmer

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
70°