The afternoon starters on Friday at Carnoustie must have felt blessed. Having enjoyed largely windless conditions on Thursday, they `warmed’ up in driving rain, but when they got to the tee – nothing.
The storms that had soaked the morning wave vanished. The afternoon groups had a double advantage from the draw – the best of weather conditions on both days.
But Carnoustie was teasing them, and the final four had their merry way with the each unsuspecting contender as they arrived.
Kevin Kisner, with a two shot lead on eight-under, hit into the burn at the last and lost both strokes. The colourful Pat Perez, tied at six-under, bogeyed the last via a bunker to slip back to fourth. Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth got within shouting distance while the less-celebrated Zander Lombard was sharing the lead but they were all caught by the 16th.
Tony Finau got a share of the lead at six-under and was taken down by both the 15th and 18th, bunkered both times.
None of these players has gone away, and they’re all packed around a cramped leaderboard for the weekend. They were joined by the diminutive Xander Schauffele, one late starter who did superbly, shooting 66, and by Matt Kuchar, last year’s runner-up, who quietly crept into a share of seventh almost unnoticed.
But the impression was that a hugely favourable advantage hadn’t been exploited by the majority, and the successes from the morning wave – Zach Johnson, Tommy Fleetwood, Rory McIlroy – had the better day on balance.
Kisner had again played superbly all the way to the last, just a couple of bogeys “getting greedy” attacking the pin at the short eighth and off the tee at the tenth. But decent birdie putts at 13 and 14 had him two clear at eight-under.
“I mean, to play 35 holes without a double I thought was pretty good,” he said. “I’ve kept the ball in play, done everything I wanted to do all the way up into that hole.
“That hole” was the last, where his tee shot kicked left, and he misjudged an eight iron from the rough into the Barry Burn under the right hand bridge. Double-bogey, and back into a share with Zach Johnson.
“If (the tee shot) stays somewhat straighter, I’d probably hit it in the middle of the green and have a chance to make birdie,” he said.
He’s ready for the weekend, but wondering where the really tough stuff is.
“I think the surprising part is the little amount of wind,” he added. “Haven’t really had that 20-mile-an-hour heavy Scottish wind that we normally have off the sea that really throws your ball in crazy places.
“But I think that’s to come over the weekend?”
Perez is the somewhat crazy, mulletted and almost John Daly-esque player who bemoaned the Open as not being enough like San Diego when he first played, but has gradually learned to love links, and now even comes for the Dunhill regularly.
“I don’t hit it that long, so Erin Hills and Shinnecock (the last two US Open venues) there was no prayer (for me),” he said. “Even Augusta has gotten long for me.
“Here is awesome. If six-under leads, who cares, there’s guys at 10-over. They did a phenomenal job with this course, and I know they won’t let it go tomorrow.”
Pat also loves the fans in Scotland, who are “so awesome. They know a good shot, they know it’s hard.
“The knowledge of those people is just phenomenal, and you don’t have drunk guys out in the bushes making fun of you.
“Even when they clap, they actually mean it, not just clapping to clap. It makes it really special.”