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That close: Cutline proves lucky for some, disastrous for others

By Ryan Wilson | CBSSports.com
What proved to be a rough two days for some turned into a pleasant surprise for others. (AP/Getty Images)

In much the same way an otherwise meaningless January Patriot League basketball game can draw the rapt attention of the degenerate gambler, so too did the final groups in Friday's round of the 2012 British Open. Not because the likes of Steven Tiley or Aaron Townsend or even Aaron Baddeley were in contention for the lead, but because they were all one shot north of the cutline as they made their way to the clubhouse.

With each stroke, they controlled the fates of roughly 15 golfers stuck at 3-over for the week, all of whom wondered if their weekend plans would include trunk-slamming and bag-packing or 36 more holes of golf at Royal Lytham.

Luck, it turns out, was on the side of the less fortunate. Three-over eventually proved to be good enough to play the weekend, which means that 85 golfers will tee it up Saturday and Sunday, including fan favorite and five-time Open Champion Tom Watson, whose miraculous shot out of a very wet fairway bunker on No. 17 still led to a three-putt bogey, but in true Watson fashion, he followed it up with a birdie on the final hole to make the cut on the number.

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Other beneficiaries now slated to play the weekend include Keegan Bradley, Rickie Fowler, Lee Westwood, and perhaps most improbably, John Daly.

Westwood, who is now atop most people's "best player yet to win a major" list, has to be equal parts surprised and relieved with his situation. He shot a 3-over 73 on Thursday when conditions were ideal and admitted after the round that his game just hasn't come together recently.

"I've been working on the problem for three or four weeks now, since the US Open, and it's not clicked," he said. "I didn't feel I hit it that great there -- I got away with a lot. I'll go on the range and try to work on it."

Westwood duct-taped his game together well enough to fire an even-par 70 Friday. Daly, meanwhile, made his way around the course unnoticed except for his gauche homage to the Union Jack. That said, the 1995 Open champion shot a respectable 72-71, and while he has no chance at another Claret Jug this year, drama will come in the form of his weekend fashion choices.

The conversation for the unlucky (or, if you prefer, cursed) has to begin with Phil Mickelson, the second-place finisher just a year ago. His opening round of 73 put him well back of the leaders but with plenty of time to make a move. Needing 78 strokes to get around the course Friday guaranteed not only a missed cut, but that his 11-over total would be one of the worst efforts of the tournament (he tied for 147th ... out of 156 golfers). Lefty's post-round comments pithily encapsulated his experience at Royal Lytham.

I really don't know what to say," he said. "I obviously played terrible."

Almost as unimpressive but certainly less surprising: last year's unlikely Open champ, Darren Clarke, who asked (rhetorically, we assume) after an opening round 76: "How the ---- did I ever manage to win this last year?" To his credit, Clarke bounced back with a 71 on Friday but it wasn't nearly enough, which, given how much he's struggled this year, was for the best.

And then there's Sergio Garcia, whose 4-over total served as a microcosm of his career: on the outside looking in by the slimmest of margins -- and by his own doing. If there's a professional golfer with worse body language than Garcia, we've yet to see him. Same holds if you replace "body language" with "demeanor."

Garcia is his own worst enemy. Yes, it's cliched at this point but it's also very true. It's been almost 13 years since he came out of nowhere to threaten Tiger at the PGA Championship. And he's gone through stretches where's he's looked like one of the best players in the world. More times than not, though, mental lapses have proved to be his undoing, and that was on full display this week.

If nothing else, the 2012 British Open has reinforced one thing: it's a fruitless endeavor to divine who will play well and who won't because, apparently, the golf gods don't decide such things until the last minute. Which means that current leader Brandt Snedeker could shoot another 64 on Saturday and run away with this thing. Or he could come back to the field and someone like, say, Thorbjorn Oleson could be the 10th first-time major winner to come out of nowhere.

 
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