SOUTHPORT, England (AP) - The flags around Royal Birkdale flapped in the stiff breeze Friday morning. A light, misting rain fell from the gray clouds, which obscured any hint of the sun.
By British Open standards, a normal morning.
Compared to 24 hours earlier, a huge improvement.
The focus was again on the weather for day two of golf's oldest major, with the early starters racing to get in as many holes as possible before another expected round of storms rolled in off the Irish Sea. The forecast called for potentially heavy showers throughout the day on top of that ever-present wind, the sort of conditions that made life miserable for the early starters on Thursday.
No one took advantage of the relative calm more than Jean Van de Velde, still remembered for his memorable 72nd-hole collapse at Carnoustie nine years ago.
The dashing Frenchman, going out in the first group of the day at 6:30 a.m., shot a 2-under 32 on the front side - the sort of score that would have been impossible a day earlier in the cold, soaking rain and howling wind that kicked off the tournament. He was at 1 over overall, two strokes behind Greg Norman and Rocco Mediate.
Norman, who shot a par 70 on Thursday, birdied the first hole and briefly found himself with the lead all to himself when the co-leaders from the opening round got off to tougher starts.
Mediate, a playoff loser at the U.S. Open, shot 69 Thursday and started the second round with five straight pars before a bogey at No. 6 knocked him a shot off the pace. He bounced right back at the par-3 seventh with a birdie, pulling even with Norman.
Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland, coming off a 69, was a stroke behind after a bogey at the second. Robert Allenby of Australia, the third of the 18-hole leaders, was really struggling with two straight bogeys to start his round, leaving him two shots off the pace.
Van de Velde was playing the Open for the first time since 2005, and just the second time in the past seven years. But he's still haunted by the ghost of Carnoustie, where he went to the final hole of regulation with a three-stroke lead, only to recklessly throw it away by trying to finish off his first major title with a flourish.
He knocked his ball off a grandstand and into the Barry Burn, even taking off his socks to wade into the cold water with the hopes of hitting an impossible shot. He eventually thought better of that idea, but still wound up with a triple-bogey and went on to lose to Paul Lawrie in the playoff.
Van de Velde has never shied away from his legacy - one of the greatest collapses in sports history - and he's never given up hope of writing a new chapter to the story.
Then there's Mediate, the 45-year-old everyman who has suddenly revitalized his career. He was on the cusp of his first major championship at Torrey Pines last month until Tiger Woods sank a birdie putt at the final hole on Sunday. They moved on to a playoff the next day, and Woods captured his 14th major title on the 19th hole.
Still, Mediate's inspiring play and “what the heck am I doing here” demeanor turned him into the darling of the gallery, and he showed through his first day at Royal Birkdale it was no fluke.
“I have no explanation for that whatsoever. No idea why that happened,” Mediate said after walking off the course Thursday with the share of another major lead. “It was just one of those rounds. It was just up and down, up and down, and a couple of birdies, and here we are.”
Mediate was one of the lucky ones Thursday. Most of the players who went off in the morning struggled mightily in horrible conditions, including Ernie Els - who was rated as one of the favorites but left with an 80 on his scorecard, the highest score of his sterling Open career.
Vijay Singh also shot 80 - and didn't even feel he played that poorly - while Phil Mickelson was barely hanging on after losing his ball in the prickly rough at No. 6 and going on to a 79, Lefty's worst start at a tournament that always seems to give him problems.
By the afternoon, the rain stopped, the wind tapered off a bit and the scores dropped dramatically. All but two players in the top 14 had an afternoon tee time.