Sputtering 'Mechanic,' thinner crowds, a lesson for Spieth and Phil struggles at Muirfield

  • Article by: DOUG FERGUSON , AP Golf Writer
  • Updated: July 20, 2013 - 5:00 PM

GULLANE, Scotland — Martin Laird was at home in Scotland, closing in on the lead at the British Open when it all went wrong.

His mess at Muirfield began with a 2-iron that strayed into nasty, yellow rough right of the fairway. After a couple of hacks — and a couple of penalty shots — he staggered off with a quintuple-bogey 9.

And that wasn't even the worst of his forgettable Saturday. Walking up the 16th fairway, he was informed an additional shot was being added to his score for failing to alert all the right people when he moved his ball in the rough on the 10th hole to identify it.

"To say that deflated me, I think would be an understatement," Laird said.

He ended his long day with an 81 — 12 shots out of the lead.

"Every time I hit a shot that could go one way, it went the other," Laird said.

Even after chopping his way to a 9 on the third hole, Laird was only 3 over for the tournament. He bounced back with a beautiful 5-iron into the toughest hole, and then made birdie. What gnawed at him was the 10th hole.

In deep rough, Laird marked his ball with a tee and told the marshal who found it that he was going to make it was his. One problem. The rules require him to tell playing partner Dustin Johnson or one of the walking officials.

"If I had said, 'Dustin, just went down to find my ball.' Or, 'Rules Official, I'm going to identify my ball.' Even if I said it loud enough for one of them to hear, it would have been fine," Laird said. "It's the fact that none of them heard it, even though I said it. So it's one of those lovely rules of golf."

Instead, he violated Rule 12-2 that says, "Before lifting the ball, the player must announce his intention to his ... fellow competitor."

David Rickman, the rules director for the Royal & Ancient, said letting the spotter know wasn't enough.

"The rule is very specific," Rickman said. "It needs to be the fellow competitor. The fellow competitor is there to protect the interests of the rest of the field, and therefore, we are specific about who that needs to be. Because you need to give that fellow competitor, or as I say this week, the referee, the opportunity to come over and observe the player's actions. That's the protection that the rule gives."

Worse yet was finding out so deep in a round that had already gone so wrong.

"Walking up 16 when I was told I got a one-shot penalty on No. 10, I don't even think rubbing salt in the wounds would do enough to describe it," Laird said.

___

MECHANIC SPUTTERS: Miguel Angel Jimenez likes to relax with a good cigar and a glass of red wine. He might need something a little stronger after Saturday.

"The Mechanic" played solidly over the first two rounds and went into Saturday with a one-stroke lead. But he plummeted from contention with a 6-over 77.

This one started bad — four bogeys in the first eight holes — and didn't improve much. Still within striking distance of the leaders, Jimenez played the final five holes at 4-over par. He took double-bogey at the 16th, needing two swings to escape a pot bunker. At the 17th, he lipped out a 3-footer to save par.

He still has an outside shot, going to the final round six strokes behind leader Lee Westwood. But the fun-loving Spaniard knows his chances are slim, especially with nine players between him and the lead, including Tiger Woods, Adam Scott, Angel Cabrera, Zach Johnson and Phil Mickelson — major winners all.

Jimenez hoped to become the oldest major winner in golf history at age 49. Instead, he'll likely have to settle for a good smoke and a sip of vino from something besides the claret jug.

___

WHERE'S THE CROWDS?: Despite flawless weather, the crowds at Muirfield are noticeably smaller than the last time the British Open came here in 2002.

The R&A reported attendance figures for the first three days of the tournament, as well as the practice. The turnout was slightly higher for practice — a total of 31,320 turned out, but the higher-priced tournament tickets haven't been as much as 11 years ago.

The opening-round crowd Thursday was 23,393, a significant drop from 30,620 in '02. The trend was much the same the last two days. At Muirfield's previous Open, the crowds were 34,479 for the second round, 33,212 for the third.

Also noticeable: the number of empty seats at the 18th hole when Lee Westwood and Tiger Woods arrived. Even the BBC commentators noted that plenty of fans headed home early, despite two of the most popular players still contending for the lead.

No one can blame the weather for the smaller turnouts. It has been sunny all week, with temperatures in the 70s.

___

SCHOOL'S STILL IN SESSION: Jordan Spieth created a stir last weekend by becoming the youngest PGA Tour winner in 82 years.

But he's smart enough to know there's plenty left to learn.

The 19-year-old hobbled to a 5-over 76 Saturday, hurt by bad bounces and worse decisions.

"I wasn't patient and that was the issue," he said. "Bad bounces are going to happen out here, but I could have shot three shots lower, without even playing any different."

Despite being 6 over for the tournament, Spieth enjoyed himself, in part because he played alongside Northern Irishman and major winner Darren Clarke.

"He's obviously loved and I can see why. Extremely nice guy, he's very selfless, he's rooting for me. It was cool," Spieth said.

Despite a full schedule since March and the pressures of being in contention the previous three weekends, Spieth said he didn't think fatigue was a factor in his performance here. That said, he wasn't unhappy about taking time off after the Open.

"Yeah," Spieth acknowledged, "I'm looking forward to it."

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