GULLANE, Scotland – Russell Henley didn’t let another high-scoring round in a major ruin his weekend.
“I had a really bad day (Thursday) and I came out (Friday) with a lot better attitude, and I’m proud with how I finished,” Henley said after playing the final 10 holes in 2 under to shoot even-par 71 on Friday at the British Open and make the cut by one shot.
A day after his late-afternoon 78 left Henley looking like a lock to miss his third major cut of the season, the Macon native made a solid recovery at Muirfield. He birdied the ninth and 17th holes and made unlikely sand saves with awkward stances on Nos. 8 and 13 to keep himself in the tournament.
“I had to make it, didn’t I?” Henley said of the 20-footer he curled into the side of the cup on No. 17 that elicited a fist pump. “It felt good rolling that putt in. I hit pretty good putts most of the day and that one finally caught a little of the hole and went in.”
When Henley finished his morning round, he was tied for 96th. But once the afternoon winds kicked up and sent the scores soaring, he had crept into the top-70 and ties with his 7-over total of 149.
“I wanted to get to 6 (over),” he said. “I’m doing the best I can. It’s not easy to make birdies here. ... I’m not very happy that I have to wait it out to see if I make the cut or don’t, but I feel like played really solid and learned a lot this week, and this is the closest I’m going to come to making the cut.”
Henley’s major season had been marred by blow-up rounds. He shot 81 in the second round of the Masters and 80 in the second round of the U.S. Open to miss both cuts. He also missed the cut at the Players Championship after a second-round 76.
“I played the first two majors of the year and didn’t sniff making the cut,” he said. “I guess for me to at least be close this time, it gives me a lot of confidence. My game is there for sure and it’s just a matter of getting comfortable over here.”
The British Open is Henley’s third career experience with links golf. He earned a critical singles victory in the anchor match of the Palmer Cup at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland in 2010 and won the leadoff singles match against Tom Lewis that almost triggered an epic American comeback in the 2011 Walker Cup at Royal Aberdeen.
But neither of those experiences prepared him for the kind of baked-out conditions that greeted players at a Muirfield course that has seen little rain in more than a month.
“It’s really firm,” Henley said. “Sometimes I’m hitting a pitching wedge from 165 yards, and sometimes I’m hitting 6-iron from 160. I’m not really used to that. I just have to come over here and adjust and trust it. ... A couple times everybody in my group would putt it 8 feet by, and you couldn’t really stop the ball. As the day goes on it gets firmer and the wind keeps blowing really hard. I guess that’s the nature of golf over here. With tee times from 6-something in the morning until 4, the course changes a whole lot.”
Henley was matched up for two rounds with 18-year-old English amateur Matthew Fitzpatrick and 19-year-old American Jordan Spieth.
Coming off a playoff victory at last week’s John Deere Classic on a sponsor’s exemption, Spieth has put himself into a head-to-head duel with Henley for the PGA Tour’s Rookie of the Year honors.
Henley is 22nd on the PGA Tour money list with his season-opening win in Hawaii and three top-10 finishes while Spieth is 17th with six top-10s.
Spieth was tied for third place through 32 holes at Muirfield before going double-bogey-bogey on Nos. 15, 16 and 17 Friday.
“I played Walker Cup with him, and we’re good buddies,” Henley said of Spieth. “Hopefully I’ll be out here with him for a bunch of years to come. He’s a great player. ... Obviously both of us want to win Rookie of the Year. But we’re just trying to do our best to win again and maybe get to the Tour Championship. It’s fun to see your friends win out here with you.”
Henley hopes to make up ground in the forecasted calmer morning conditions Saturday. Regardless of how it turns out, Henley will leave Scotland on Monday more positive as he gets ready for the season’s final major at the PGA Championship in August at Oak Hill.
“I never would have thought at the start of the year before Sony that I would be playing all four majors,” he said. “I’ve got to try to be thankful and just soak it up and learn. You can tell I’m making progress.”