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Late groups blown away at British

7/16/2010 - Golf

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- He breezed around the Old Course -- an appropriate description on this day -- and was likely eating breakfast well before the rest of America was awake.

If he then had a good chuckle, well …, welcome to the 139th Open Championship.

You could almost envision Mark Calcavecchia sitting somewhere with his sore feet propped up, a pint in hand later in the day, watching the BBC telecast of the British Open and taking some glee in the proceedings.

He certainly wasn't laughing at what happened to first-round leader Rory McIlroy, who went from 63 to 80 at the Old Course -- nobody wishes that on a fellow competitor. But Calcavecchia benefited greatly from the suffering of others.

Little did Calc know when he finished his second round around 10:30 a.m. local time what was in store for the rest of the field, which endured wind gusts of more than 40 mph, a stoppage in play for 66 minutes, and a survival test that left many of the world's best golfers fried and frustrated.

Calcavecchia did not emerge with the lead through two rounds -- that honor goes to South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen -- but he would have never figured to be in the final group Saturday, even with an impressive 5-under-par 67.

That put him at 137, 7 under par, which would have been a nice story on a calm day, another 50-year-old making a run at the Open.

But this was not a calm day. Not even close.

"It was brutal out there," said Steve Marino, who shot 76 and finished at 145, 1 over par. "Putting was the worst. You can live maybe without controlling the ball through the air, but the putting … you're over there trying to putt and the wind's blowing 40 and the ball's going like this. Probably the windiest conditions I've ever played in."

And that is why play was suspended at one point for 1 hour, 6 minutes. The wind was howling, with gusts reported up to 41 mph. If a golf ball oscillates on the putting surface, play can be suspended -- something that had happened just five times before Friday in the past 11 years on the PGA Tour.

The suspension came at 2:38 p.m. local time -- just after Tiger Woods struck a long birdie putt on the first green. When he returned to the course, the wind had subsided only slightly, and he ended up bogeying the first two holes.

But Woods played perhaps his round of the year, even if his score of 73 did not indicate such. That's how tough the conditions were on Friday. He was among the last 25 groups to finish, and not a single player broke par.

"It was certainly one of the toughest days I've ever faced," said Woods, who is 4 under par, eight strokes back of Oosthuizen but only three shots out of second place.

The reason for such consternation over a golf ball that rolls is the penalty that can be incurred if you ground your club. A player who rests his putter behind a ball is deemed to have moved the ball if the wind blows it.

"I understand the rule, but it's such an unfair rule because you haven't really done anything wrong and the ball starts to roll and you incur a penalty," said Trevor Immelman, who shot 74. "That was the kind of thing you had to be careful of today."

How brutal was it?

Martin Kaymer played in the 17th group of the day and was the last of 24 players out of those 51 to break par. Another 25 groups -- 75 players -- then went through without anyone shooting better than 72.

McIlroy, who shot a major championship record-tying 63 on Thursday, went 17 strokes higher and shot 80 -- falling off the leaderboard. It was the worst turnaround for a first-round leader at a major in 20 years -- since Mike Donald opened the 1990 Masters with a 64 and then shot 82.

"I two-putted the last for a good 80," McIlroy quipped. "It was just very difficult out there. A big contrast from yesterday."

The scoring average for those who played in the afternoon was roughly five strokes higher -- more than 77 -- than those who played in the morning.

Among the casualties: Ryan Moore (84), Brian Gay (83), Jason Dufner (82) and Martin Laird (83).

"I don't think they should have called us off the golf course," said McIlroy, who parred the first three holes and then fell apart after the delay. "When we got back, conditions hadn't changed."

Thomas Levet, who shot 81, wondered why play resumed after the suspension. "Same wind, same strength," said Levet, who also criticized pin placements that he felt were too difficult based on the wind. According to Levet, only the first, 17th and 18th hole had favorable pin placements. "I don't understand that," he said.

What wasn't difficult to figure out was that those who played the earliest had it the best.

Calcavecchia was in the first group.

Oosthuizen was in the second.

Barring some incredible play by Scotland's Steven Tiley during the conclusion of the second round on Saturday morning, when 10 groups will have to finish, the two guys who tee off the earliest will be going off the latest.

And that really about sums it up.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.