Wild winds, wild shots, and also wild deer presented Shane Lowry and his colleagues with one of the wildest days for some time on day two at the RBC Heritage Classic in South Carolina.
Even wilder are the conditions that help present a scenario of just nine shots separating the 71 players who made the even-par cut heading the weekend rounds of the 53rd hosting of the Euro 7.4m event on the host Harbor Town course at Hilton Head.
Wind gusts up to 30 mph played havoc with the morning half of the field, and there was no respite for those including Lowry and Graeme McDowell out in the afternoon.
Reigning FedEx Cup champ Patrick Cantlay was one of those out in the second half of the draw and emerged just after 6 pm local time atop of the board when he brilliantly birdied his closing four holes in a four-under 67 and moved two clear at nine-under.
Cantlay enjoyed the distinction mid-afternoon to be the only player not to have dropped a shot this week but that was before the World No. 6 walked off the seventh with a bogey; however, he was among those you could count on one hand who birdied 18.
“That was a dream finish”, said Cantlay. “I finally rolled in some putts, and that was really nice to see going into the weekend. The wind was gusting all day, so it wasn’t blowing in a consistent direction at all. You had to kind of wait for your wind and really — sometimes you hit good shots and they don’t go to good places on days like today. You just have to accept that and realize you’re doing the best you can and kind of be easier on yourself than normal.
“So, It was a tough day out there, and I figured any round under par or around even par would be a win for today. So finishing how I did puts me in a great spot for the weekend”.
Fellow American Robert Streb also signed for a 67 to be in second place at seven-under while there are five players at six-under-par and six on five under.
Lowry, with three birdies but four bogeys in his one-over 72 heads to Saturday’s ‘moving day’ tied in 14th place with eight others on four-under.
“Tough. It was — yeah, it was tough out there”, said Lowry. “It’s so hard in the trees and the wind’s swirling. It’s quite a strong wind, as well. So, yeah, I’m obviously a little bit disappointed at 1-over, but I’ve not played my way out of the tournament. I’m in a nice position going into the weekend.
“Obviously, Patrick made a few birdies at the end and pulled away a little bit, but a lot of golf left in this tournament, yeah”.
Lowry began his round bogey and then birdied the second for a second day running before a second dropped shot of his day at the sixth. There was plenty of applause for Lowry when his tee-shot at the par-3 eighth found the green, and with his ball continuing to roll towards the flag, and stopping eight-foot shy of the flag from where Lowry found the bottom of the cup for a birdie ‘2’.
There was a bizarre sight at the eighth hole when a deer emerged onto the hole and clearly looked confused, sprinting up the side of the fairway, scrambling through a bunker, before eventually finding an escape back into the trees. It forced Jordan Spieth and playing with Lowry to wait on his shot.
And while the deer managed to get lost in the trees, there was a loud cry of ‘Oh, no!’ from Lowry when the wind grabbed his second shot into the eighth leaving in short and right of the green, but he chipped superbly from 40-feet to just under a two-feet to save par.
Lowry dropped shots at the 11th hole and the wind grabbed his tee shot at the par-3 14th sending it well left on route to a bogey, but he bounced back sinking a 13-footer for birdie at the par-5 15th. He then pared his closing three holes, including a very testing seven-footer on the 18th.
“There are few holes that are just an absolute disaster out there if you hit a bad shot”, Lowry also said. “Like 14, you’re standing there, and I’m a couple off the lead, and you’re one swing away from having to think about the cut mark. It’s so tight out there.
“Yeah, it was the gusts. It was just hard to get the ball pin high, and it was hard to get the ball close. The greens are very firm. And then they were a little crusty at the end.
“I found it hard anyway, especially from a distance to put it there. I kept leaving myself five, six-footers but managed to clean up nicely.
“Looking to the weekend, I just need to go out and do my thing. I think I’ve been playing good enough golf. One-over is not great today, but it’s not a disaster. Look, it was really, really tough out there.
I just need to kind of focus on keeping the ball in play and just taking my birdies when I get them because I think I’m playing the golf good enough to kind of maybe be challenging at the weekend, but we’ll see how that goes”.
There are then 11 players at three-under, nine on two-under-par, 13 sit at one-under while there are 16 making the cut right on the mark at level par.
Among those at level is McDowell, and the 2013 RBC Heritage champ struggling in the conditions to bogey three holes in a row from the 13th and then made a meal of the last in taking a double-bogey ‘6’.
It is only the seventh occasion in 14 events McDowell has contested on the 2021/22 wraparound season McDowell will play all four days.