Wet But No Damp Squib

Should we be dismissing this Open already? No Tiger Woods. No sunshine. No low scores (Camilo Villegas and his awe inspiring 65 aside). Will 2008 turn out to be an Open aberration? Will we be whispering shamefacedly about this like we do about Carnoustie ’99 or day three at Muirfield in 2002?

Of course we won’t. Or at least I won’t. Sure the weather’s grim and it must be a bit miserable for spectators (What’s the best way in this weather? Tramp over the course or choose a grandstand and give the rain a sitting target?) but, get this, golf is an outdoor sport.

If you play an outdoor sport in Britain – even by the sea in July – you’re going to get your fair share of wind and rain at some point.

The scores aren’t great. But it’s a bit like watching football: if you see Manchester United beat Grimsby 10-0 at a sunny Old Trafford you can be left speechless by their attacking verve and scoring genius. But if you see Manchester United grittily grind out a result against Chelsea with the rain lashing down at Stamford Bridge on a Tuesday night you can be equally impressed by their resoluteness, their determination to get the job done.

So it is in golf. Bobby Jones used to talk about his battles with old king par. The battle is the same at a blustery Birkdale or a sunny St Andrews. It’s how you win the battle that is different.

Some of the shots made yesterday were fantastic. Some of them weren’t so great. Some of the players pulled down their hats, zipped up their waterproofs and got on with it. Others looked out of place and miserable. So be it. That happens.

Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson struggled. There is a reason for that: neither is close to being in their best form. They can paper over those cracks when everything is perfect but, as they showed yesterday, that’s a lot more difficult with the wind and rain lashing at your swing.

Greg Norman has been the star of the show so far. At 53, newly married, friends with at least one President and, essentially, the full time of CEO of his own company, Norman hardly plays the game. But he rolled back the years. Why? Because he has nothing to prove, because his game is not dictated by coaches, analysts and psychologists. A strong wind can’t throw all his preparations into meltdown.

Tom Watson is another. Old school, gritty, determined, Watson can do no more about the weather than he can roll back the hands of time. So he just puts the head down and gets on with it. Not the worst weather Tom has played in. No, that was Muirfield, 1980, first round. He shot 68. Take that, all you young guns.

Padraig Harrington is another great story: rated only 50-50 to play, unable to complete a practice round on Wednesday, scared to shake the starter’s hand with his injured arm and playing in the worst of the weather. Rather easy to surrender to the conditions you’d have thought. But Harrington is defending champion and he wanted to show it. In the worst of the weather his 74 was brave and determined.

David Duval: the former champion, now languishing somewhere in the high 900’s of the world rankings, who woke up, looked out the window and said “oh, jeez.” And then shot a 73, which probably qualifies as his best competitive round for years.

Jean Van de Velde: A 73 on Thursday and a 71 on Friday to safely make the cut in his first Open since 2002. A plucky effort for a man so ravaged by injury that his aim each year is to make the Open and the French Open. Anything else is a bonus.

An unfair test? No, a different test for sure but one that still throws up surprises, inspiration and flashes of genius. To read some of the reports and listen to some of the commentators you would think that the weather has turned the Open into a lottery. Anyone who has ever played a links course in bad weather would tell you that that is not true.

Some holes will reward bravery. Some will reap rewards for going safe. Shots will change from hole to hole, a long iron here, a short iron there. Okay so it’s not golf as we normally recognise it but it’s still golf and it still takes guts, determination and a hell of a lot of skill.

And, more than that, it makes it compelling viewing. Because, thanks to the weather we have berated, we’re likely to have a whole heap of players in contention come Sunday and every single one of them will have a chance of nicking the Claret Jug.

So far, I am loving it. And, from the comfort of my armchair, I’m going to enjoy the rest of it as well. Whatever the weather.

One Response to “Wet But No Damp Squib”

  1. Baz says:

    No Tiger, yes of course it’s a shame not to see how he would have handled the conditions offered up so far. It has been a great leveller for the the game of golf. I have seen top professionals brought down to very ordinary player levels during the first two rounds this tournament. I can tell everyone out there, wonderful, I am no where as bad as I think I might be, honestly how often do these, so called ‘heroes’, play in the conditiuons we do week in week out in the less ‘glamorous months of our less than glamorous climate. Keep it up guys, I’m glad you are only human after all.

    Barry Oakland

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