OAKMONT, Pa. – Cristie Kerr didn’t need to sink a long putt to gain a potentially significant advantage in the U.S. Women’s Open, or whip a 290-yard drive down one of Oakmont Country Club’s slender fairways.
No, she only needed it to rain.
A relentless string of thunderstorms that began with 100 of the 156 golfers still to begin or complete the second round caused play to be suspended at mid-afternoon Friday. Twenty-eight of the 31 golfers who were within three shots of the lead had played only a few holes or hadn’t teed off.
Except for Kerr, the world’s No. 1 player, and first-round leader Brittany Lang, who shared the not-very-crowded clubhouse lead at 1-over 143. Sophie Gustafson was at even par, but she had 17 holes left in her round.
Kerr finished her even-par 71 before the pelting rains flooded Oakmont’s famed Church Pew bunkers and saturated its super-fast greens. Those greens were beginning to turn a Cleveland Browns-like shade of brown – never a welcomed sight in Steelers-mad Pittsburgh – following four consecutive days of 90-degree weather.
Lang slid from a first-round 69 to a 3-over 74 as temperatures went down but the scores didn’t, with Christina Kim a shot back at 2-over 144 following successive 72s.
“We had a very dry course, and it can take a lot of rain,” said the USGA’s Mike Davis, who is confident that improving weather will allow the biggest event in women’s golf to finish on schedule Sunday night.
But can Oakmont take a lot of Kerr? Epecially now that she’ll play probably less than a full round on Saturday, rather than one full round and most of a second as many will?
Kerr was the undisputed favorite to win her second Women’s Open in four years – she also won in 2007 – after winning the LPGA Championship two weeks ago by an unprecedented 12 shots. Only a week’s break between majors gives her a chance to maintain her confidence and, arguably, the mental edge she owns over the other golfers.
Taking on 108-year-old Oakmont, its Stimpmeter-busting greens and fabled hazards is difficult enough in a tournament where the leaders may have already seen the last of below-par scores. Taking on Kerr when she’s on her game may be equally rough, even if 21 golfers go into Saturday morning within two shots of the lead.
“You kind of, you know, sit in the weeds and wait, wait to kind of strike,” Kerr said.
She was referring to the patience needed for Oakmont to yield some birdies, rather than trying to force them on a course where Angel Cabrera’s winning score for the 2007 U.S. Open was 5 over.
Inadvertently, she might been referring to her strategy for taking on the rest of a field that may be beyond fatigued once a very long Saturday is over. Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. EDT Saturday, with the third round set for 2:30 p.m.
The leaders won’t start the third round until approximately 5:30 p.m. Saturday and will finish Sunday morning. That means Kerr might play only 12 holes or so Saturday, compared to 36 for the less fortunate.
Those playing all or most of their second rounds in the morning, including Gustafson, Kristy McPherson and two-time Women’s Open champion Karrie Webb, gain the advantage of softer greens and, thus, a friendlier putting surface.
Conversely, the course will play longer because it’s wetter, and that could result in some bad lies that the fast, firm Oakmont didn’t produce until the rain fell.
“The water, it’s going to make it play extremely long,” Lang said. “I don’t know how this course drains, but it’s going to play extremely long and soft.”
Kerr, much like her bumpy first round, was streaky Friday. She had a double bogey and two bogeys in a span of four holes during her first nine, which began on No. 10, but she recovered with three consecutive birdies from No. 4 through No. 6.
“You have to take opportunities when you have them for birdie and make them and get some momentum going, and that’s what I did on the front,” Kerr said.
Now, Kerr hopes to take advantage of much more rest than many others in a field already worn by taking on tough old Oakmont in near-tropical heat. At least temperatures will moderate the rest of the tournament, with highs predicted in the low 80s rather than the low 90s.
“You have to have the patience of a saint this week on this golf course,” Kerr said.
Especially when a golfer must wait 28 hours between taking shots, as she will.