Gregg Pettersen had the most fantastic round of golf of his life Saturday.
And that’s before he hit a single shot.
Pettersen, a golf pro at Royal Birkdale, got the plum assignment as a “marker” for South Africa’s Shaun Norris, to even out the 79-player field. The Englishman was essentially a placeholder.
“For me it was just a bit surreal,” said Pettersen, 38, who has worked at the club for 15 years and was informed the night before that he would be playing. “I’ve never played in front of that sort of crowds at all over the years. It’s just been maybe a couple of people spectating.”
Pettersen, whose biggest paycheck as a professional is the equivalent of $390 in a club pro competition, only had to mark Norris’ card and not his own. He estimates he shot 4 or 5 over par, a considerable distance behind the 65 of Norris.
“I think the highlight was getting the first tee shot,” said Pettersen, whose pairing was the first of the day. “I wasn’t expecting the crowds to be like that all the way around. I halfway expected it on the first tee. But obviously everyone getting ahead ready for Justin [Rose] and Tommy [Fleetwood] to go through.”
Norris said he had a lot of fun with Pettersen on the course and that the round “just felt comfortable.”
“I said to him, `Just enjoy yourself,’” said Norris, who is even par after three rounds. “It’s a great opportunity for him, and he can only learn from this.”
This was a one-time experience for Pettersen. Fellow Birkdale pro Nick Jennings is next up to play alongside whoever goes out first Sunday morning.
Next up for Pettersen? Real life.
“I’ll be going back to work in the pro shop this afternoon,” he said. “Back to normal.”
Scott Hend was the only player of the day to start a round bogey, bogey. He regrouped in a big way, though, picking up a couple of birdies on the front, and five in a row to finish with a 65.
“It’s golf, mate,” the Australian said afterward. “The positive is, I didn’t make a double-bogey today. I made a double every other day. If you make two bogeys, it’s like making a double-bogey. And I bounced back from that and was just trying to play.”
Jason Day is ranked No. 6 in the world. He has won a major, the 2015 PGA Championship. He won three times last year.
Nobody could have predicted he would fall apart down the stretch in the second round of the British Open and barely make the cut. He shot 69 and 76 to finish the day 5 over and finished his round in the driving rain Friday with double-bogey, bogey, double-bogey.
“With everything going on around you, you’re trying to think straight because there’s so much going on,” he said Saturday, looking back at the implosion. “And unfortunately, I just didn’t quite have my head switched on the last three holes.”
He was angry at himself. He went back to the place he was staying, watched the movie “The Expendables 2,” had dinner and ice cream and finally cheered up.
“I was supposed to go to the gym yesterday,” he said. “I’m glad I didn’t because I probably would have squatted 500 pounds, I was that angry.
“We’re in a great position in life. To be able to play at Royal Birkdale in a major championship is. … We’re very blessed in a sense to be here. Sometimes we get in a position that makes us very angry, and I’m thinking, ‘I’m missing the cut because of my poor play coming in.’ Fortunately, I’m here today and talking to you guys.”
He regrouped in style, too, shooting a 65 to pull to even par heading into Sunday’s round.
Ian Poulter had a total of two bogeys in the first two rounds. He had five Saturday, including three in a row on the back side. He had to drain a long putt to save par on 18 for a 71.
Poulter came into the day tied for third at 3 under. He ended it tied for 11th and a lot of work to do.
Shouldering the load
Sergio Garcia has been bothered by a sore shoulder since angrily swinging his club at a bush Friday, but he felt better as the day went on Saturday.
“It’s just a little bit of inflammation,” said Garcia, who shot a 68. “Obviously, I pulled it a little bit yesterday. … Nothing seems to be torn or broken or anything like that, just a little inflammation in the joints.”
The only amateur who made the cut is England’s Alfie Plant, who has a big group of friends and family cheering him on. They call themselves “Alfie’s Army,” and have T-shirts that read #TeamAlfie.
One of those Alfie fans is his girlfriend, Daisy Meadows. Were they to marry, she would be Daisy Plant.
Said Plant: “Will draw a few chuckles if things go as planned.”
Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesfarmer
12:10 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details about Scott Hend, Jason Day, Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia and Alfie Plant.
This article was originally published at 10:20 a.m.