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“Wish I could have seen it go in,” Watson quipped as he walked toward the hole to retrieve the second hole-in-one at this Open. Dustin Johnson aced the 16th during the opening round.

Watson missed some short putts, though, and finished with a 70 for a 142, surely good enough to send him through to the weekend.

The morning starters definitely caught a break with the weather. Early on, there was barely a cloud in the sky and little wind off the Strait of Dover, the flags hanging limply above the grandstand. The breeze picked up in the afternoon, and things could turn downright nasty on the weekend.

Clarke took advantage, though it had nothing do with being spurred on by the success of his younger countrymen.

“I’ve been personally delighted for both of them,” he said. “We’ve got back-to-back U.S. Open champions from a small, little country like Northern Ireland. That’s a massive achievement.”

Clarke will likely be carrying on this weekend without McDowell, who stumbled to a 77 for a 5-over 145.

“It’s getting to be a bit of a habit, these type of days,” McDowell moaned. “A bad habit to get into, obviously.”

McIlroy, who got off to a sluggish start Thursday with a 71, played in the afternoon as the wind picked up, making it tougher to go low. He was even through 11 holes, keeping him at 1 over.

Two other defending major winners were in better shape.

PGA champion Martin Kaymer (67) was at 137, with Masters winner Charl Schwartzel (68) another stroke back. Defending British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen (70) also appeared safely above the cut line at 142.

Coming into the week, all three took a backseat to McIlroy, the centerpiece of this major after an eight-stroke win in the U.S. Open. But the 22-year-old has a lot of work to do on the weekend to claim the claret jug.

Top-ranked Luke Donald was another player saddled with the late-early portion of the draw, working against the Englishman’s bid to claim his first major title. He was 2 over on the day, 3 over in the tournament and mainly concerned with just making it to Saturday.

A morning tee time didn’t help another of England’s major-less stars. Second-ranked Lee Westwood, perhaps the best player never to win a Grand Slam championship, took a double-bogey at No. 8 and finished with a 73. At 144, he was lingering below the cut line late in the day.