Just when the ridicule must have seemed almost unbearable, so yet more humiliation was piled upon Colin Montgomerie with the worst major performance of his career here yesterday.
A second-round 83 left him dead last in a USPGA field containing 19 club pros. The only consolation available to the Scot is he has been spared a weekend of further embarrassment.
"A very long week," was how Montgomerie summed it up. Indeed, it has been and he was not necessarily referring to the golf or the fog delays which have blighted these first two days, leaving half the field to complete their second rounds today. On Tuesday, at a press conference which has already entered Monty folklore under "the bizarre and excruciating" section, the 47-year-old accused all the journalists in the room of "having fun at my expense". And to be fair, it is impossible to pretend that the rumours triggered by this married man seeking an injunction to block a story about his private life have not been rife in Wisconsin.
Montgomerie had been playing awfully anyway and with all that distraction going on in the background, anything other than a missed cut would have verged on the miraculous. When asked how much he had practised and what his expectations were coming into what was his 71st, and quite possibly final, major, he replied: "I couldn't, there weren't." The wretchedness of his scorecard was given even crueller emphasis by the form of his playing partner. As he signed for an 18-over total, Matt Kuchar signed for an eight-under clubhouse lead. A 26-stroke lashing.
"This was the first time I've played with Matt and I'm very impressed," said Montgomerie. "He handled himself very well. He is as solid a player as I have played with on the US Tour for a long time and will be a great asset to their Ryder Cup team."
The 47-year-old will now spend the weekend commentating on Sky and watching his prospective players. At the very least his comments last night dispelled most of that wild speculation of him quitting. "I'm looking forward to getting the Ryder Cup team picked," he said, thinking forward to Gleneagles in two weeks' time. "A few of our boys are doing well. Rory McIlroy has got it back to five-under which is great."
The young Irishman added a 68 to a 71 to stand just three shots behind Kuchar. While McIlroy's first round was golfing pandemonium – six birdies, two double bogeys, one bogey – his next effort was wonderfully composed, although he did have to pull off an outrageous save on his last (the ninth). His pitching-wedge approach hopped over a bunker towards the hazard, but somehow McIlroy got it up and down, his 12-footer for par a fine way to head for his evening meal.
"I like the position I'm in," he said. "I'm in a strong position from where I can make a charge over the weekend."
It is set to be a big two days – possibly three if play drags into Monday – for the 21-year-old who played such a central role at St Andrews a month ago. Take out that horrendous 80 on the Friday and that Open display screamed of a player whose time could really be nigh. He has already established a three-stroke cushion over Phil Mickelson.
The left-hander played in typically cavalier fashion as he veered from potential disaster to audacious recovery with a 69. At one stage, a drive hit a spectator. "Sorry," signed Mickelson on a glove he gave to the man. Little wonder so many here are rooting for the Masters champion to at last replace Tiger Woods at the top of the rankings.
Out on the course, Simon Khan was threatening to displace Kuchar, joining the leader on eight-under with three remaining. The Englishman is trying to win the PGA double, having prevailed at Wentworth in May. That success resurrected a career which appeared in danger of crashing into oblivion when he lost his card two years ago. Khan, an amiable 38-year-old from Essex, continued his trip into golfing wonderland with a first-round 69 and then four birdies and an eagle – after chipping in on the sixth – to take him to the top.
His and McIlroy's names were a welcome sight for the European golf fan on a leaderboard otherwise crammed with the Starred and Striped. Nick Watney (seven-under), Bryce Molder (five-under), Dustin Johnson (five-under), Jason Dufner (five-under)... these are the young Americans who have been so derided in this season of dramatic European success. Corey Pavin, the US Ryder Cup captain, will be thrilled to see their form here. They are certainly not the Celtic Manor no-hopers as portrayed by certain experts. In fact, when Pavin's automatic placings are decided at the end of this event he might well have a new major winner to hail.
Kuchar and Johnson are two of the players just above Woods in the Ryder Cup charts as he tries to leapfrog from 10th into the top eight. The pair had given him plenty to ponder as he killed time waiting for his evening tee-off time to resume on one-under.
After a fog delay of three hours, 10 minutes on Thursday, another of two hours 40 minutes sent the schedule of this major into complete and utter disarray. A Monday finish was becoming a distinct possibility. If not a probability. It's going to be a marathon and the quite clearly shattered Montgomerie is better off out of it.
US unless stated; holes played in brackets
-8 M Kuchar (36), S Khan (Eng) (33).
-7 N Watney (36).
-5 J Dufner (36), B Molder (36), D Johnson (36), S-Y Noh (S Kor) (36), R McIlroy (NIrl) (36), Z Johnson (36), B Watson (21).
-4 C Campbell (36), F Molinari (It) (36).
-3 C Pettersson (Swe) (36), J Day (Aus) (22), M Laird (Sco) (20), R Moore (18), C Howell III (18), K-T Kim (S Kor) (20), J Merrick (20), M Sim (Aus) (19)
-2 (group including) E Els (SA) (36), P Mickelson (36), R Karlsson (Swe) (34)