2017 Open Championship: What to watch for heading into the weekend

We’re halfway home at the Open Championship! Here’s a wrapup of Friday’s action and a look forward to what you can expect from an American-heavy leaderboard this weekend…

Spieth’s Genius Misfire
We’re still not that far removed from an era where ridiculous shots off the club of Tiger Woods were a common occurrence, where any putt shorter than half a mile was pretty much a gimme. Jordan Spieth isn’t anywhere near Tiger yet, not even close, but every so often he takes on that aura of invincibility, like every move he makes is the right one.

Nowhere was that more apparent this tournament than on the par-5 15th hole Friday, where a mis-hit shot ended up rolling so far that Spieth, rather than looking at a par or worse, ended up holing a putt for eagle. That put him three strokes ahead of the field, and while he would give one back, he still heads into the weekend two strokes ahead of second-place Matt Kuchar.

Spieth plays well with a lead—with one notable exception, of course—and he’s got this tournament teed up exactly the way he needs it. Rivals including Brooks Koepka and Rory McIlroy are at least three strokes back, and the weather should calm its rainy self down for at least the early part of the weekend. Two days from now, golf’s golden child might just have another major to his name.

Ian Poulter’s Resurgence
No Ryder Cup history will be complete without mentioning the strategic and competitive genius of Poulter, who has a way of getting under opponents’ skin that’s unmatched in either Europe or America. But so far, every major history in golf is complete without mentioning Poulter. Say what you will about the guy, but he’s proven this year that he’s got stones; he very nearly lost his PGA Tour card earlier in the year, and the only way he got into this Open Championship was by surviving a July 4 qualifier. He’s made the most of his latest opportunity, carding a 67-70 to sit just three strokes off the lead. A victory at Birkdale would complete the career of one of golf’s most infuriating, and infuriatingly good, players.

Mark O’Meara bids farewell to Birkdale. (Getty)

O’Meara Bows Out
As the years roll on and the exemptions run out, we’re starting to see more and more of our favorite golfers of yore taking their final tours around the tracks they once owned. This year, it’s Mark O’Meara, who won the Open Championship at Birkdale in 1998 and now, in 2017, sees the final year of his eligibility trickle away. Sadly, O’Meara wasn’t even close to making the cut; he hit the very first shot of the tournament out of bounds, which didn’t bode well. Even so, O’Meara recorded his 300th Open Championship birdie in his 30th appearance at the event, and his final round in the championship was an even-par 70. Not a bad way to go out.

Notable Missed Cuts
What’s notable about this year’s Open Championship is how many big names remain in the tournament. Past champions like Phil Mickelson, Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke, John Daly, and Stewart Cink didn’t reach the weekend, but most of the best players in the world at least hung on for a few more days. A notable exception: Patrick Reed, who continues to shine everywhere but in majors. On the plus side: local kid Tommy Fleetwood, who grew up playing this course, holed a knee-knocking two-footer to make the cut on the number.

Forecast
Saturday ought to look a little better, weather-wise, than Friday. Winds are expected to stay in the single digits, and rain isn’t expected during the hours of play … at least not until late Sunday. But this is the Open Championship, where all weather forecasts are pretty much meaningless. Regardless, whoever’s going to catch Spieth will need to get going quickly on Saturday.

It was a rainy Friday at the Open Championship. (Getty)

____
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.