By Phil Casey
ENGLAND’S Danny Willett claimed the clubhouse lead in a weather-affected 144th Open Championship on Friday, a day which ended at 9:55pm with five-time champion Tom Watson bidding an emotional farewell.
As play stuttered to a halt around the course following a delay of more than three hours due to torrential early rain, Watson and playing partners Ernie Els and Brandt Snedeker opted to complete their second rounds in near-darkness.
The trio and their caddies – with Watson’s son Michael on his bag – paused on the Swilcan Bridge on the 18th for the traditional photograph before Watson was left alone to take the applause of the spectators who had stayed on to salute the popular 65-year-old.
A closing bogey, one of five in a row for a round of 80, barely mattered and was instead greeted with a loud cheer as officials and players applauded from the clubhouse steps.
In truth it was not the finish Watson deserved with the grandstands largely deserted, but the alternative was a return at 7am on Saturday to complete the round, with those players making the cut to be sent out in groups of three to make up lost time.
He hugged his wife Hilary as he walks off the 18th green and said, “It’s over.”
Willett had finished more than five hours earlier and is 41 under par for his last ten rounds on the Old Course, adding a 69 to his opening 66 to reach nine under par, two shots ahead of Scotland’s Marc Warren, former Masters champions Zach Johnson and Adam Scott and Robert Streb.
Dustin Johnson was 10 under par with five holes remaining, with 1999 champion Paul Lawrie and Jason Day eight under with six and seven holes left respectively.
Masters and US Open champion Jordan Spieth, playing alongside Johnson, was five under par after three birdies and three bogeys in 13 completed holes.
Meanwhile, England’s Luke Donald was left to rue an untidy start and finish to his round but he importantly remains in contention at the Open after some impressive play in between.
The 37-year-old began at four under but mis-hit his approach into the burn for a double bogey at the first before staging a recovery with six birdies between the fifth and 16th to get to eight under and within two of the lead.
However, back-to-back bogeys on his final two holes in the gathering gloom at St Andrews took some of the gloss off his round of 70 but he is only four behind leader Dustin Johnson, who still has five holes remaining of a rain-delayed second round.
“To finish 5-5 leaves a sad taste after such a good middle part of the round but there are a lot of positives and I am still in a good position,” he said.
“I misjudged the wind a little bit (at the first) and hit it heavy and came up short.
“But I played some good golf in the middle, holing some good putts.
“You can take making a five at 17 but 18 my drive unfortunately finished in a divot and I probably let it bother me a little bit too much.
“It was getting gloomy and that last putt was a little hard to see the read but I thought I had made it.
“Other than that I was glad to get finished.
“I feel like I am hitting some good shots and am confident with my putter and I am in a good position.
“It is meant to be a wild day tomorrow so we will see what happens.”