SOUTHPORT, England -- Charl Schwartzel cut a sorry figure at the conclusion of his second-round 78 that promised so much more.
Royal Birkdale hadn't so much broken him as broken up with him. This weekend at the Open Championship -- his 4-over total leaves him just on the favorable side of the expected cut line -- he will be like the boyfriend who has to attend a weekend family get-together with the girlfriend who just dumped him.
On Friday this beautiful stretch of Lancashire linksland flirted with him, offering him three pars and a birdie at the par-3 fourth hole. Suddenly, the 32-year-old from Johannesburg was tied for the championship lead at 5-under through 22 holes.
Schwartzel has been tempted by Open Championship courses in the past, but he has also been tossed aside by them. His record book includes six top-25 finishes and five missed cuts.
On Friday, Royal Birkdale opted for a cruel double-whammy; first she tempted, then she tossed him aside.
No sooner was he on top of the leaderboard than his ball became embedded through the fifth green. Under European and PGA Tour regulations he would have gained relief; under R&A rules, he didn't. A double-bogey 6 was the result.
It didn't happen once, but twice.
"If the ball gets embedded you've got to play it," he reported quietly. "And I had two. I had one there and another on the 15th. I had to take penalty shots. That was fine. It's still early on, [your] spirit is still up high. But when you start three-putting from 15 feet in the middle of the green, that's harder to take than a penalty drop."
In the 12 holes after his birdie, Schwartzel dropped nine shots and he explained it all post-round through the dispirited stare of the rebuffed.
"Going out I felt pretty good, but as soon as I got the crosswinds, it was really difficult," he said. "I couldn't putt in this wind. That was my biggest challenge. I was three-putting almost every hole."
In fact, he three-putted four times. His exaggeration was a symptom of his befuddled state. His thoughts were veering in many directions, none of them positive.
"I've always found it very difficult in these conditions," he lamented. "I said to my caddie, as much as you want to challenge yourself, really it's just luck. You're hitting these shots, and the ball is just going wherever."
"Yesterday, with a little bit of a breeze," he concluded, "you can really play golf and move the ball. The way it was out there, it's not much fun."
Two-time Open champion Ernie Els has enjoyed a more successful relationship with the links of Great Britain, and even his 3-over 73 was significantly less destructive than what might have been. Added to his opening 68 it leaves him at 1-over 141 for the championship, comfortably inside the cut mark. He'll be joined at the weekend by compatriots Branden Grace, Shaun Norris and Brandon Stone.
Comfortably over that cut line, however, was Louis Oosthuizen. The 2010 champion was always struggling after a 78 on Thursday, and a 74 on Friday left him stranded at 12-over.