The Open 2015: Storm rages over 'play on' call before 10-hour delay sees championship run into Monday

Jordan Spieth unhappy at starting in early gales before play stopped, meaning rare Monday finish, writes Kevin Garside at St Andrews

Click to follow
The Independent Online

For only the second time in the history of The Open, the Claret Jug will be presented on a Monday. Let’s hope the spectacle matches that of 1988 at Royal Lytham, where Seve Ballesteros edged Nick Price in a slug fest, chipping dead at the last from 60 feet to claim his third Open and final major.

By then, the controversy that raged yesterday will be little more than a footnote in a championship replete with bad weather stories. The bones of the third-day carnage, following a three-hour plus delay on Friday, was a hiatus of 10 hours 32 minutes caused by high winds. It was not the stoppage that hurt but the decision to start in the first place at 7am, only to call a halt 32 minutes later.

Hell hath no fury like a golfer in a gale, that’s for sure. Even the choir boy temperament of the unblemished Jordan Spieth began to crack after being asked to play the unplayable. Spieth, grouped alongside the on-course leader Dustin Johnson, was one of 42 golfers still to complete their second rounds. The endeavour lasted all of 32 minutes before officials sounded the horn to signal the suspension of play. 


“We should never have started,” Spieth was heard to mutter sotto voce. Spieth’s criticism was ultimately accepted by R&A chief executive Peter Dawson, who admitted in hindsight it would have been better not to have taken the field. But he did not accept it was a mistake to do so in real time, claiming that all the evidence at his disposal validated the move. “The decision was taken based on the evidence at the time,” he said. “I supported it fully, was an integral part of it, and I believe it was the right decision given the facts at the time we took it. When you’re out at the far end of the course and balls are not moving on the 11th green, although it’s a tough day with a big wind, it’s the right decision to play. It proved that as the wind increased that we would have been better not starting, but we did start.”

Spieth was one of the lucky ones, completing two holes unscathed on five under par. Johnson’s first shot on the resumption was a chip at the front of the 14th green that he caught fat. Though his ball came to rest on the putting surface he was not quick enough to it, and the wind whisked it back down the swale whence it came, leading to his second bogey of the tournament.

Bubba Watson was another to suffer with a dropped shot at the 16th that took him to one over par, a stroke the wrong side of the projected cut.  His caddie Ted Scott tweeted about the mood music in the players’ lounge afterwards. “Every R&A official in player dining is getting yelled at. Lots of players pissed [off] in here.”

The case for the R&A defence went like this: “We spent an hour at the far end of the course, before play started, assessing whether the course was playable. Balls were not moving on the greens and, while the conditions were extremely difficult, we considered the golf course to be playable.

“Gusts of wind increased in speed by 10 to 15 per cent [up to 45mph] after play resumed. This could not be foreseen at the time that play was restarted and made a material difference to the playability of the golf course.”

Play is suspended on day three at The Open

The move that forced the R&A’s hand came on the 13th green when Louis Oosthuizen, the champion here five years ago, rolled his birdie putt to three feet, saw the wind blow it two feet closer to the hole then as he went to mark it, off it rolled again five feet past the cup without any intervention from the golfer. On course analyst Dottie Pepper observed: “I think that’s the most unfair thing I’ve ever seen on a golf course.”

There was disquiet, too, over matters on the 11th green, the outpost at the end of the St Andrews loop most vulnerable to wind, where Brooks Koepka found it impossible to replace his ball six feet from the hole. Some players were unhappy that they were asked to continue playing while a solution to Koepka’s problem was sought. Oosthuizen’s difficulties tipped them over the edge.     

Jordan Spieth plays a shot early on Saturday morning

On the Koepka affair Dawson said:  “When you’re faced with a possible suspension of play, you want to be sure that you know what you’re doing. You want to establish facts from wide parts of the course. We had a rules official with every game. We sent Grant Moir, one of our top men out there, to see what was happening, and it did take some time to establish that they couldn’t find a spot to put the ball down safely.

“That, of course, results in players at other holes carrying on with play, players waiting behind on the 11th tee maybe hardly having hit a shot, and I appreciate people thinking that that might be unfair and unreasonable, but it takes a smarter guy than me to actually avoid that.” At least on the resumption at 6pm Oosthuizen rolled in his putt for par to remain at seven under.  And he smiled in recognition of the madness of it all as he picked the ball from the hole. Not so Koepka, who bogeyed.

Johnson felt a little better at the close with a birdie at the last for a 69 to re-establish hegemony at the top of the leaderboard at 10 under par, one clear of Danny Willett, who had the day off. Spieth also birdied 18 to remain where he started on five under par. The fates were clearly having a laugh when Daniel Brooks fired a hole-in-one on the hole that caused most trouble, the 11th.

And so on we go, the fourth day hosting the third round and tomorrow given over for the coronation, People’s Monday, tickets costing a tenner with kids admitted free.