Royal Birkdale struck back at the British Open.
Along came the rain, steady and sideways. There went Fred Couples and Davis Love III. Then the wind blasted off the Irish Sea and blew Tiger Woods and John Huston out of the lead, with Nick Price following right behind.The second round turned into a day of survival, and two of the top contenders turned out to be as unpredictable as the weather.
Brian Watts, an Oklahoman who makes his living on the Japanese tour, shot a 1-under-par 69 for a 137 and a one-stroke lead over 17-year-old Justin Rose of England, yet another amateur making a name for himself in a major cham-pion-ship.
"Sunday, Monday and Tuesday didn't give me any belief in the world that I could even make a birdie on this golf course," said Watts, referring to the practice rounds when the wind was as brutal as it was Friday.
Rose had the best round of the day, a 4-under 66 that tied the Open record for an amateur. Price and Woods each recovered two strokes on the final two holes to also trail Watts by a stroke.
Thomas Bjorn of Denmark was at 139 and the only other player who heads into the weekend under par.
"There's a lot of things that can happen,' said Woods, whose birdie-birdie finish gave him a 73 and cause to finally smile.
"I came out smelling like a rose."
Birkdale came out looking like a beast.
Twenty-seven players broke par in the warmth and light winds on Thursday. Only seven players were in the 60s on Friday, with more gusts expected over the weekend.
Player after player ducked into the clubhouse thankful to get off the course in one piece.
"I don't want to listen to any of those guys who complained about the conditions this morning," said Price, who had an afternoon tee time. "There's just so many crosswinds blowing. I'm grateful to have gotten off the course two strokes over par."
Couples, who started the day one back of Woods and Huston, didn't make a birdie until the 18th hole for a 74 and was at even-par 140. He was joined by Love, Masters champion Mark O'Meara and Stephen Ames.
"The weather can change on a dime," said O'Meara, who played in the final pairing at Birkdale in 1991 and put himself in position to be there again with a 68.
Huston was among those who lost it - a 77 that left him five strokes back at 142. A year ago, he shot a 5-under 67 to lead the Masters after the first round but followed up with a 77.
And talk about losing patience - John Daly took five shots to get out of the greenside bunker on the 18th, taking a 10 and missing the cut by five shots. Earlier this year, Daly hit six 3-woods into the water in the final round of the Bay Hill Invitational and took an 18 on one hole.
The stark change in conditions was noticeable in the scoring, which was more than two strokes higher than Thursday. And it could be seen on the faces, from the exuberance of Rose to the exasperation of Woods.
"It was so hard out there," said Woods, who time and again turned to caddie Fluff Cowan with a perplexed look when the putts wouldn't fall. He took 18 putts on the first nine holes for a 38, eight strokes higher than the day before.
"I was getting blown over. It was hard to stay steady," he said.
Play was suspended for 30 minutes by the Royal & Ancient because it was "not sensible in the conditions." But then, when does the British weather ever make sense?
Couples and Love were among those who started the day in a cold rain that blew sideways. Within 30 minutes, the wind shifted direction, brought out the sunshine - and then really started to blow.
"This is much more British Open golf today," Watts said. "The front nine, we had the rain for the first five holes and a steady wind, but the back nine it really picked up strong."
It's not surprising that an American is leading the Open, since the Claret Jug has been brought back over the Atlantic the last three years. But Watts is not a typical American golfer.
He grew up in Texas and has lived the past 10 years in Oklahoma - he won the NCAA championship at Oklahoma State. But when the 32-year-old couldn't qualify for the PGA Tour, he took his trade to Japan and has won 11 times over the past five years.
"The American tour is probably the dream," he said.
Rose is living his dream out right now. He'll be in the final pairing Saturday with Watts, a far cry from when he was upset in the first round of the British Amateur last month and missed the cut last week at Loch Lomond.
His 66, highlighted by an eagle-birdie finish and applause like he's never heard walking up the 18th, tied the Open record by an amateur that was first set by Frank Stranahan at Royal Troon in 1950. Woods matched it two years ago at Royal Lytham.
"I have never met Justin Rose, but to have an amateur up there is great," said Colin Montgomerie, who missed the cut.
These days, it's becoming common. Rose is the third amateur to make an impact in a major championship this year. Matt Kuchar was in contention until Saturday afternoon at the U.S. Open, and Jenny Chuasiriporn lost the U.S. Women's Open in a 20-hole playoff to Se Ri Pak.
And Rose is not ruling himself out in his bid to become the first amateur to win the Open since Bobby Jones in 1930.