There's a fine line between contending and disappearing at the 2013 Open Championship.
Muirfield Golf Links is playing fast, hard and is giving the golfers fits through two rounds of the third major of the 2013 season. After Friday's second round was in the books, only nine golfers had a two-round score that was under par.
Miguel Angel Jimenez (-3) is the leader after two rounds. Followed closely by Tiger Woods, Lee Westwood, Henrik Stenson and Dustin Johnson at two under, Jimenez captured the lead by posting an even-par score of 71 on Friday.
The tournament's official Twitter account posted the following as Jimenez suddenly became one of the favorites heading into the final two days of action:
Jimenez is the leader of the 142nd Open Championship on -3. Lots of golf still to play!— The Open (@The_Open) July 19, 2013
Angel Cabrera and Zach Johnson headline a list of golfers just two strokes off the pace at one under.
The cut line is eight over, which means noted professionals like Jason Dufner, Keegan Bradley and Fred Couples will all be playing this weekend despite finish well above par after the first two rounds. Those who shot nine over or worse will not be playing on Saturday or Sunday.
The weather so far in Scotland has not forced golfers to leave the links, but it is affecting the course. On the surface, you wouldn't think so. Just check this tweet from the PGA Tour as confirmation:
As you can see in this CNN video, complaints about the current playing conditions might surprise you:
Between judging the wind on each hole and finding a way to avoid the treacherous bunkers and deep rough that makes Muirfield such a tough course, there's little room for error at the Open this year.
Even if you posted a strong score on the front nine, the back nine was waiting to swallow you up. Golf Digest's tweet about the final nine holes should make you glad you're not facing the reality of having to play a full 18 at Muirfield this week:
Geoff Shackelford: "I just came in from the back nine and it's absolutely vicious out there." http://t.co/yUUY3IT9Je— Golf Digest (@GolfDigestMag) July 19, 2013
Just ask Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose and Luke Donald. All were expected to contend before the tournament began, but none will be playing on Saturday or Sunday after missing the cut and posting abysmal scores.
One misstep on a hole could be the difference in par and triple bogey—the disconnect is that steep this year in Scotland. The current leaders at the 142nd Open are the ones who have managed to balance consistency with avoiding the big mistake.
Jason Sobel of the Golf Channel had this comedic tweet about the way the course was playing:
So apparently the 15th hole is playing as a par-6 today.— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelGC) July 19, 2013
Golf Channel's Kelly Tilghman pontificated about what it would take to be the Day 2 leader during the middle of Friday's round.
Really, really, really good chance Woods, Stenson & Westwood (-2) will have share of lead when the day is done. #sotough— Kelly Tilghman (@KellyTilghmanGC) July 19, 2013
Like we saw at Merion for the 2013 U.S. Open, this year's British Open is going to wind up being a low-scoring affair.
Day 2 Recap
As the old saying goes, the only things you can count on in this life are death, taxes and Angel Cabrera being in the hunt at major championships.
Although the 43-year-old former Masters and U.S. Open winner has finished first or second on the PGA Tour only three times in his career, all three have come at major championships.
Simply put, it's becoming harder and harder to be surprised when we see Cabrera mixing it up with the leaders at majors. By posting a two-day score of 141, he's once again in contention at a major despite not getting much attention before the tournament began.
ESPN's Trey Wingo had this mind-blowing tweet about what a win for Cabrera would do for his place in golf history:
Angel Cabrera one back, trying to become just the 4th person since 1980 to win 3 DIFFERENT majors. The others? Jack, Tiger and Tom Watson— trey wingo (@wingoz) July 19, 2013
"The Duck" has only one career top-10 finish during his visits to Europe for the British Open, but as we've mentioned so many times with Cabrera's game, it always seems to get better when he's on golf's biggest stages.
Golf Digest spoke with Cabrera earlier this week, and as you can see by his comments, Cabrera's unwavering, unabashed confidence is really one of his biggest assets:
British Open leader Angel "The Duck" Cabrera told us that his swing gets better each year he grows older: http://t.co/KKGqThgYPR— Golf Digest (@GolfDigestMag) July 19, 2013
Speaking of elder statesmen, 49-year-old Jimenez is keeping pace at the British Open less than a year removed from one of the more hard-luck accidents we've seen in golf in quite some time.
Jimenez broke his leg in a skiing accident in December, but he's showing no ill effects from missing extended time. The eccentric Spaniard completed an impressive round of even-par and is the leader heading into the weekend.
Speaking of being eccentric, Jimenez has a new fan in fellow Tour pro Bradley:
On range after my round Miguel a Jimenez walked past me with aviator sunglasses, cigar and bottle of wine. Maybe he is the coolest man alive— Keegan Bradley (@Keegan_Bradley) July 18, 2013
One of the most interesting golfers in the field this week, Jimenez is known for his cigars, wine and, as CBS Sports' Kyle Porter noted, one of the most unique stretching routines you'll ever see.
As Sobel noted on Twitter, this year's Claret Jug might go to good use right after it's awarded:
Miguel Angel Jimenez in sole possession of the lead. Obvious question: Will red wine stain the Claret Jug?— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelGC) July 19, 2013
As solid as Jimenez played on Friday, the other leaders from Thursday's action didn't fare so well. 1998 Open champion Mark O'Meara made the cut but shot a seven-over on Friday, virtually ending any chance for a nostalgic return to prominence.
Tom Lehman and 2004 Open winner Todd Hamilton also moved well down the board after strong starts; the latter managed to just sneak inside the cut at eight over.
Speaking of past champions, Tiger Woods is back with a vengeance.
Woods headlines a group of impressive golfers (Stenson, Westwood and Dustin Johnson among them) who will enter Saturday's action at two under. By shooting a 71, he keeps the same score from Round 1 and is very much in the mix to win his first major championship since 2008.
As you can see in this tweet from ESPN's Rick Reilly, Tiger's putting has been downright impressive through two days of action at Muirfield:
Tiger Woods is the best fast-greens putter in history. He has 18 one-putts in 2 days. #OpenChampionship— Rick Reilly (@ReillyRick) July 19, 2013
Elsewhere, Westwood's impressive round leaves him in contention for his first major championship and a chance to improve on his second-place finish from the 2010 Open.
After holing six birdies in his first 12 holes, Westwood fell victim to the back-nine curse mentioned above. He still finished with an impressive three-under for the round and equaled Woods' two-day score as the action shifts to Saturday.
Zach Johnson, who was the Round 1 leader, had an up-and-down Friday.
Johnson finished with six bogeys, four birdies and a double-bogey to post a four-over 75. Despite missing more fairways than he did on Thursday and struggling to find a consistent putting stroke, Johnson will start Saturday's round just two strokes off the pace set by Jimenez.
Fan favorite and Scottish Open winner Phil Mickelson also had an up-and-down day. With two double bogeys, Lefty cost himself four strokes that would have been valuable toward climbing the leaderboard.
As it is, he has to be content with his current score of one-over. As noted by Yahoo! Sports' Pat Forde, he has to be ecstatic if you consider the disaster that was No. 16:
Phil Mickelson just three-putted from two feet on 16. Mayhem.— Pat Forde (@YahooForde) July 19, 2013
In addition to Mickelson, there's a strong set of contenders at one over. John Deere Classic hero Jordan Spieth, 2013 Masters winner Adam Scott, 2012 U.S. Open winner Webb Simpson, 2012 Masters winner Bubba Watson, Francesco Molinari and Ian Poulter will all begin Round 3 just four strokes off the pace.
Poulter, who complained on Twitter about the course after Thursday's round, had a fan at the course on Friday. The European star didn't like the last hole of the day, and an impassioned fan made sure he supported Poulter's decision to speak out by wearing a costume that embodied the player's complaint.
Although rough patches categorized Round 2, there were bright spots on the day.
One such bright spot was the incredible putt of Robert Garrigus on the 15th hole. Garrigus finished 11 over and missed the cut, but this shot was easily the most impressive from the first two days of action at the Open.
In keeping with the "difficult" theme of this recap, it's been a rough weekend for other past champions of both the Open and the other three majors.
As noted by ESPN's Justin Rose, McIlroy (+12) completed the worst 36-hole performance of his career on Friday:
Rory McIlroy now +10. Rory's worst 36-hole score to par in a major is +10, done twice (2010 & 2012 US Open).— Justin Ray (@JRayESPNGolf) July 19, 2013
Reigning champion Ernie Els snuck into the cut by finish at six over, but McIlroy, Rose and Jim Furyk headlined a list of former major winners who will not be continuing into the weekend at Muirfield.
By my count, three of the top nine players in the world will miss the cut at the British Open this year. Only one (Woods) finished under par through the first two rounds.
Who will win the 2013 British Open?
That should tell you all you need to know about how tough things have been so far at Muirfield. With sunlight and good weather expected over the final two days of action, don't expect to see the course play any more favorably to any golfer in the field.
The beauty of a major doesn't always reveal itself until the weekend. The 2013 British Open is no different, and there's been nothing beautiful about trying to watch the majority of the field navigate the links on Thursday and Friday.
The field will return to Muirfield on Saturday for a third try at winning the battle with the course. Don't expect the 18 holes in Scotland to lend any favors to that mission the rest of the way.
Follow B/R's Ethan Grant (@DowntownEG) on Twitter.