ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Early-tournament major leaderboards are like going to a class reunion of people two grades below you. You recognize a couple of the names, sure, but there are many more unfamiliar ones that may as well have parachuted in from Pluto ... or South Yorkshire, as the case may be.
Friday at the British Open started late because of heavy rains, and then began in a window of rare calm before round-shattering winds would roll in. Taking full advantage of that brief instance of calm was Danny Willett, who started the day one stroke behind leader Dustin Johnson but by Hole 10 had built a three-shot lead on the field. You know, just like we all predicted.
Willett survived a more difficult back nine to finish at 9-under, making him the clubhouse leader. Dustin Johnson, who teed off late in the day, sits at 10-under – 3-under for the round – when play was suspended on his 14th hole.
"I think it's a childhood dream and looking up there it's still a little bit surreal but something I'm going to have to get used to, otherwise no point in being up there," he said after firing a 3-under 69 on Friday. "We're going to try and rest up and then try and go out for another good weekend and hopefully we can be up there in two days' time."
So who the heck is Danny Willett? He's a European Tour vet who's basically the English Rickie Fowler. Both have two wins on their home tours. Willett's 27, Fowler is 26. Willett had four amateur wins, Fowler had five. Fowler held the World Amateur Golf No. 1 spot for several streteches in 2007 and 2008; Willett overtook him during one of those stretches. Both players competed on the 2007 Walker Cup team, a Europe-America showdown that also featured future notables like Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson.
[Slideshow: Wild weather at the British Open]
Granted, the comparisons start to fall apart the higher up the professional ladder you move; Willett has never placed higher than a tie for 15th in a major, while Fowler has tied for second on several occasions. But at the moment, Willett is leading the British Open and Fowler's 10 strokes back.
Willett also played a couple seasons of golf at Jacksonville State University (Ala.). He initially started his university in Great Britain, "hated it" after a month, and moved to the United States at 17.
"I went out there at 17, quite young, a little bit messy, kind of do everything your own way, and then came back two years later, bigger, stronger, a little bit more disciplined in everything I did," he explained, "and that kind of set up the amateur career that I had for the next year and a half after that."
He hasn't played much in the U.S., but won PGA Tour playing privileges for the rest of 2015 with a third-place finish at the WGC-Cadillac Match Play back in May.
He's also in an ideal position. He'll obviously play late on Saturday, when conditions are expected to improve from gale-force winds, and could be set up perfectly for a run at his first major championship.
And keep up with Jay over on Facebook, too.