Golf Needs Tiger’s Roar

The obituaries were being penned the minute Tiger let go of his club in disgust. Cutting a forlorn figure at Turnberry Tiger Woods huffed, puffed and ultimately slumped to a missed cut.

Suddenly the press were circling like sharks. The subtext is clearly that great sections of the golfing media feel excluded from Tiger’s inner circle. Chastened by off guard remarks in the past he raises a shield in press conferences and those that don’t have privileged access resent it.

The chance that they one day might be granted the patronage of the king of golf means that they resist the urge to criticise when he is in the ascendancy. But when he shows the weakness of a mere mortal the pens are sharpened like knives.

Not all of this is simply down to his personality and jealously guarded public persona. For all that the media is now a modernised global business the press corps continues to be a haven for the contrary and the misanthropic. They might not publicly state that they want him to lose but they know, in their hearts, that after 12 golden years of charting his genius it might not be that bad for them professionally to spend a couple of year chronicling his decline.

It is, after all, about nothing more than the quality of the copy and for that you need good stories. Narratives wouldn’t come much better than a struggling Tiger failing to reach Jack Nicklaus’ 18 major haul.

Some of the journalists would privately admit to a hero worship of the Golden Bear in their youth that leads them to resent Tiger’s assault on his preeminence. They forget, however, how long the media and the golfing public took to warm to the apparently brash Nicklaus when he first began to tear down the fortress built by the old king, Arnold Palmer.

For those of us slightly removed from the heat of the action the truth about Turnberry seemed less dramatic. Tiger struggled certainly but had he not been the prophet of his own travails when he announced that the Ailsa course was no place to fake it? The journalists that say he gives nothing away missed the point: faking it was what his form had demanded and what he had been doing for a couple of tournaments in America.

As the columnists continued to chart the course of his downfall Tiger did what he always does. He went away, kept a low profile and then came back and won the Buick.

He may be surly, he may be guarded but he’s also immensely resilient. He knows that golf is about slings and arrows and he knows that setbacks must make you stronger. That’s what defines him as not just arguably the greatest golfer of all time but also as one the most remarkable sportsmen of his or any other generation.

The Buick might not mark the return of the Tiger to his pre-injury brilliance in the majors but it might just mark a watershed in golf.

For all the spine tingling wonder of those four days in Ayrshire golf must concede that it got lucky. Lucky that medical science has made replacing hips such a straightforward procedure. Lucky that Tom Watson’s genius has survived almost intact down the years, perhaps lying dormant but always lurking to take the opportunity of being centre stage once again.< Because come Sunday evening the Open had a worthy and dedicated champion in the amiable form of Stewart Cink. But we must concede that it was Tom Watson not the champion who made the week. Just as both the Masters and the US Open had their own moments before producing champions who, with the greatest of respect, caused very few ripples of excitement amongst the sporting public at large. And Tiger's sixth Buick last Sunday will be his last. The company has withdrawn its sponsorship on the PGA Tour meaning the future of two big events are in doubt. The chill wind of recession is blowing and golf is catching a heavy cold. Which means that now, more than ever before, golf needs Tiger Woods as surely as fire needs oxygen. The golfing story of every journalist's life will not be a couple of years of Tiger in decline before he walks away from the game. Golf needs him to get to Jack's 18 major titles or the professional game will be in serious trouble. Where are the challengers to Tiger? Nicklaus' major winning career spanned Lee Trevino, Gary Player, Tom Watson, Tony Jacklin and others all winning multiple major titles. The drama was provided by the seemingly never ending stream of young princes coming through and challenging for Jack's crown. The reign of Tiger has seen “the next Tiger” proclaimed at least every other season. Tiger's not had to fight them off because none of them have delivered on their potential. The tension between Tiger and Phil Mickelson can provide drama as we saw for a few glorious, if ultimately meaningless, holes at Augusta. But the stats don't lie: Tiger's 14 majors knock Phil's into insignificance. Golf's crucial narrative, the story it needs to keep sponsors, television and the armchair fan hooked, is the battle between Tiger and Jack. Padraig Harrington winning back to back majors. Tom Watson turning back the clock and making us all feel young again. They are wonderful stories that warm the heart. But they are mere distractions. Tiger is the only show in town. The FedEx Cup has failed to grab the imagination. Few but the golfing anoraks of Europe could begin to explain the Race to Dubai far less the appeal it is supposed to bring to the European Tour. Other sponsors will drift away. Audiences will continue to seep towards other sports that demand less of a commitment. Tiger can stop all this. Few can turn down the chance to see a talent that comes along maybe once in a century in full flow. Corporate bosses will salivate at the chance of seeing Tiger in front of their company livery on a Sunday afternoon. Surly, rude and lacking the deportment of a champion. He might be all these things and more. But his is a rare talent that can singlehandedly guide golf through the lean times. I might be wrong. Perhaps Turnberry was the start of a decline that will prove irreversible. Perhaps, perhaps not. But those writers that seemed to revel in the possibility struck me as being like so many turkeys voting for Christmas. Tiger is their box office. What he's realised, and what they resent, is that they, and golf, need him a whole lot more than he needs them.

Ahead Of The Class

Phil Mickelson did it on the PGA Tour. So did Scott Verplank. In recent years Pablo Martin and Danny Lee have done it in Europe. I’m taking, of course, about winning a professional tournament while still an amateur, something Oklahoma State’s Rickie Fowler came oh so close to doing Sunday at the Nationwide Tour’s Children’s Hospital Invitational in Columbus, OH.

With a three-foot par putt on the second playoff hole, Nationwide Tour rookie Derek Lamley ruined Fowler’s hopes of emulating current Nationwide Tour player Daniel Summerhays’ 2007 performance in winning the Children’s Hospital Invitational as an amateur. The 29 year-old closed with a stellar 6-under 65 for an 11-under total to snatch victory from the collegiate in just his 10th Nationwide Tour start since making the finals of Q School last December.

Fowler led for much of Sunday’s final round until Lamley’s precision iron play kicked in, producing birdies on the 14, 15 and 16th holes, none coming from more further than five feet. Meanwhile, playing a couple of groups behind, Flower played steady, par golf before overshooting the 72nd green which led to his only bogey of the final round, and dropped him back into a tie with Lamley.

Both players made par on the first playoff hole, missing almost identical 18 foot birdie putts, thus sending the playoff on to the par 3 13th hole. Both players hit nervous tee shots into the second playoff hole, Fowler coming up short in the front bunker, while Lamley missed long and left of the green. From there Lamley played an extremely delicate chip shot that pitched just on the green and ran down to three feet past the hole. The Oklahoma State standout then hit his bunker shot 12 feet past the hole. His par attempt slid past the hole and Lamleybrushed in his nervous length putt to take his first Nationwide Tour title.

“A year ago I might not have even gotten that one on the green,”

Lamely said of his chip shot in the playoff.

“I might have gotten it on the green, but it definitely wouldn’t have been 3 feet.”

The $139,500 winner’s check gave the Florida native an incredible boost up the Nationwide Tour money list, catapulting him from 135th to 12th, well inside the season ending top 25 players earning their PGA Tour cards for 2010. While the result has positioned Lamley firmly in the fight to gain full exempt status on the PGA Tour, he is not letting the win get in the way of his year-end goal.  

“My goal is still the same,”

Lamely said following the win at the Scarlet Course.

“The goal still is to get on the big tour. It’s the same goal I’ve had forever. I just helped myself significantly today.”

For Walker Cup star Fowler, it was a disappointing way to end another impressive professional start. In 2008 at the U.S Open at Torrey Pines, Fowler shot 69 in the first round to hold tie for 7th. He would eventually go onto make the cut and finish 60th in that event. His burgeoning resume, which includes wins in the 2007 and 2008 Sunnehanna Amateur, the 2007 Players Amateur, as well as the Ben Hogan Award which goes to the nation’s top collegiate player in 2007/08 (Fowler was the first to do it as a freshman).

“I hit some really good putts there at the end and they just didn’t go in,”

Fowler said.

“I was giving myself good looks all day. I struggled a little bit coming in and thought I hit some good shots there on 18.”

A 2007 Walker Cup member, Fowler has announced he will participate in the 2009 cross-Atlantic battle and following that he will forgo his final two years of college to turn professional.

He told two weeks ago that he was “100 percent” certain he would be turning professional by the end of the summer, adding, “If it wasn’t for the Walker Cup, I’d probably be turning earlier.”

His next start will be at the U.S Amateur at Southern Hills in Tulsa where he will be the consensus favourite, while his first start as a professional is slated to be the Nationwide Tour’s Seboba Class which kicks off on October 1st.

Dubai finale prize money down 25 per cent, say media reports

The Race to Dubai is still on but without the bellows of record prize money that accompanied its launch last year.

The European Tour, in its efforts to match the rival US PGA Tour in prize money and prestige, last year devised a revamped circuit, running through a calendar year and replacing the Order of Merit with a Race to Dubai.

The Race represented the qualifying run to the season-ending Dubai World Championship, initially hailed as a richest tournament in the world with US$10 million in prize money and a further $10 million in bonus payouts.

It is now being reported by several media outlets that the both amounts have been reduced by 25 per cent to $7.5 million each.

This reduces the grand finale Dubai World Championship to the equivalent of one of several PGA Tour events that offer purses of more than $7 million.

The alleged cut is being blamed on the global economic crisis that has hit the United Arab Emirates city of Dubai particularly hard.

Stories of financial woes have emerged from Dubai, a favourite being that of out-of-work expatriates, unable to pay their auto loans, driving their cars to the airport and leaving them in the car park with keys inside as they flee back to their own countries.

Golf, which Dubai has been promoting as a tourist attraction, has inevitably suffered and the European Tour is taking a hit.

However, some observers claim things could have been worse and the Tour is blessed that the grand finale is still a reality.

England’s Tour veteran Lee Westwood was quoted in the media as saying that $7.5 million is still plenty to play for. He said:

“It’s a reality check for everybody that in times like this – when there’s a credit crunch, people are struggling financially – nobody is immune. I heard before it all came out in the press that it was going from $10 million down to $7.5 million. That’s still a massive prize when you think about it. I think we’re lucky to be playing for that kind of money.”

An announcement from Tour chief George O’Grady is expected soon.

The PGA Tour has not been without its problems as well. Last week marked the last Buick Open with sponsor General Motors pulling out because of the economic crisis.

Matthew Gives Scotland Major Lift

When you consider that Mary, Queen of Scots was a high profile lover of the links it has taken the home of golf no little time to produce a major winner in women’s golf.

Thankfully that all changed at teatime on Sunday evening when Catriona Matthew, having recovered from a few early wobbles, held her nerve to clinch her first major title by three strokes after a tough week at Royal Lytham & St Annes.

The North Berwick born player has been Scotland’s most likely for some time. Unlike so many Scot’s she has transferred a stellar amateur career into a solid career on the professional circuit. Her consistency has never been questioned but her lack of wins has in the past been blamed on a problem converting good positions into winning positions.

That all changed on Sunday when, despite slipping back to the field, she responded valiantly to notch three straight birdies in the back nine and restore her three shot lead.

Modest, unassuming and refreshingly matter of fact and down to earth about her sport and her career Matthew will be a popular champion both in her homeland and on Tour: Christina Kim was just one of the fellow pros to pay gushing tribute to the new champion.

And women’s golf in the UK has benefited from the media coverage of a homegrown winner with a story to tell. Characteristically Matthew was quick to downplay what many saw as the most remarkable part of her win – she gave birth just 11 weeks ago.

Indeed victories have bookended the birth of her second child with a win in Brazil coming when she was five months pregnant. The next time we hear a male pro complain about the weather or a sore wrist we might like to reflect on the magnitude of Matthew’s achievement.

On her return to Europe at the Evian Masters she suffered the anguish of a fire in her hotel. Her husband and caddy got his feet burnt as they made a dash for safety although he recovered sufficiently to take the bag and share in her biggest win.

For all that she might shun the limelight Matthew certainly provided a most dramatic narrative as she warmed up to capture her biggest prize.

The win is also a massive boost for Europe’s Solheim Cup team. With Annika Sorenstam gone Europe at least now have two reigning major champions on board for America in Matthew and Anna Nordqvist. It will still be a tough task but Matthew, set to become the most capped Scot, has given morale the lift that was required.

Hearteningly the Scottish Girls team, bedecked in Saltires, were on hand to celebrate the win. The support amateurs are given in Scotland is phenomenal and the results seem to just get better and better.

Turning that into measurable success on the pro tours is, however, becoming a problem and Scotland’s professional standing is sliding (only Vikki Laing, another East Lothian native, joined Matthew in qualifying for the weekend at Royal Lytham & St Annes) every year.

Matthew has shown perseverance and dedication can take you to the top. Let’s hope her win inspires others to do the same.

But for now let’s just enjoy her victory. Sensible, likeable and as matter of fact as any golfer you’d ever meet.

All the qualities, in fact, that one would hope for in Scotland’s first major champion.

Woods triumphs at Buick Open

Tiger Woods won the Buick Open but, careful … don’t mention the major.

It was his fourth title of the season after coming back from eight months off to recuperate from knee surgery.

Naturally, four PGA Tour titles after such a long lay-off is an amazing record – something any pro worth his endorsements would treasure.

Though he has impressed in his rare appearances on the Tour, Woods has yet to win a major … oops! Remember, don’t mention the major. I did, but I think I got away with it. (Thanks to John Cleese for that legendary line).

What major is it we should not mention, you ask? Well, there seems to be no getting away from it … the last major of the season – the US PGA Championship.

And why should we not mention it? The reason is that two weeks before each of this year’s three majors so far, Woods had won a tournament.

Then he goes into the majors – US Masters, US Open and British Open – as favourite but fails to win, even missing the cut at the Open.

The Buick also happens to be two weeks before a major, so best not mention it … the major, that is.

He shot 69 on the final day for a total of 20-undrer 268 and a three-shot victory over Roland Thatcher (64), Greg Chalmers (68) and John Senden (70).

Previously this season, Woods had taken the week before a major off. This time, however, he is planning to play right through. He has signed up for the World Golf Championship – Bridgestone Invitational before tackling the Hazeltine course for the US PGA Championship.

His victory at the Buick – the last event because the main sponsor is pulling out – was his 69th on the Tour. He is third behind Sam Snead, who has 82 and Jack Nicklaus’ 73.

Meanwhile, Britain were able to celebrate their own home-grown major winner as Scottish mother of two Catriona Matthew won the Women’s British Open at Lytham St Annes.

The 39-year-old shot 73 on the final day for a total of three-under-par 285 and a three-stroke victory over Karrie Webb.

Her victory came only 11 weeks after she gave birth to her second daughter, Sophie. She said on the LPGA Tour website:

“Coming up the last hole was a feeling I don’t think I’ve ever had before. Just a tear in my eye trying to hold myself together for the last two putts. It’s just it really has not sunk in yet.”

Tied for third were Korean Han Hee-won, Paula Creamer, Ai Miyazato, of Japan and Christina Kim. They were on 289, four strokes adrift of Matthew.

Staying east of the Atlantic, Sweden’s Oskar Henningsson won his first title on the European Tour after taking the Moravia Silesia Open in the Czech Republic.

The 23-year-old is on his debut season on the Tour after earning his place through Qualifying School and shot a final round of 67 for a total of 13-under-par 275.

That was two strokes better than the English pair of Sam Little and Steve Webster. Little closed with 70 for his 277 while Webster carded 72 on the final day.

Seve targets 2010 Open return

It has been less than a year since Spanish legend Seve Ballesteros revealed to a shocked golfing world that he was suffering from a life-threatening brain tumour.

The man who could devise spectacular escapes from almost anywhere on the golf course was facing the most difficult challenge of his life, with the stakes much higher.

He has had four delicate operations and is starting his sixth round of chemotherapy. He is far from recovered but, true to his fighting nature, Ballesteros is already planning to compete in next year’s British Open at the Home of Golf in St Andrews.

In a wide-ranging interview with Sky Sports, he said:

“Golf has always been my love. St Andrews is the home of golf. Next year in 2010 is the Open Championship at St Andrews and I want to be there because I think I can really compete – not at the level of Tom Watson this year at Turnberry – but I can compete and I want to go there in a way of thanking all the British people for all the welcome I have received from them over the years and say goodbye in a proper way.”

Ballesteros revealed that he is practicing on a regular basis and that his main problem, physically, is judging distance.

He has won three Open titles – the highlight being the 1984 triumph at St Andrews – and two Masters Green Jackets during his career, in which his swashbuckling style made him the Tiger Woods of his time, in terms of fan-drawing power.

Using a golf analogy to describe the state of his health, Ballesteros said in the interview that there was still a long way to go.

“I would say I am at the tenth hole (of my recovery). I have had six chemos and the radio section is going to start for 24 days and then hopefully the doctor will finally say that everything is gone. It’s difficult to say in words (how hard it has been mentally). The pain physically was a little bit, but mentally for the last nine months it has been really, really tough.”

Mickelson to play in US PGA Championship

Phil Mickelson will return to major action at the US PGA Championship. The American has been on and off the tour over the past few months after learning that his wife, Amy, was suffering form breast cancer.

More recently, it emerged that his mother was afflicted with the same condition and Mickelson missed July’s British Open” at Turnberry.

Before the Open, Mickelson had a run of 61 consecutive major tournaments and he is hoping to get back to winning ways for the Hazeltine event in Chaska, Minnesota.

He also plans to play in next week’s World Golf Championship-Bridgestone Invitational and The Barclays, which is one week after the August 13-17 PGA Championship.

Writing in his official website, Mickelson said:

“I have had a great six weeks at home. Things are going very well and I am excited about the opportunity to start playing some tournaments again. If things continue to go well, I’ll be able to play more.”

World number two Mickelson’s presence at Hazeltine, where he hasn’t had the best of records, will certainly add to the drama factor, especially with top-ranked Tiger Woods desperate to win a major this season.

Woods, having returned from an eight-month injury lay-off earlier this year, has failed in the first three majors of the season and needs victory at Hazeltine to prevent a rare major-less year.

The 14-time major winner is taking part in this week’s Buick Open as the favourite to win.

Woods has won three tournaments this season, each win coming two weeks before a major.

Previously in 2009, Woods would miss the tournament in the week before a major. Now he plans to play two events before the PGA Championship and has included the Bridgestone tournament in his schedule leading up to Hazeltine.

Green lifts Canada gloom with first PGA Tour title

The Canadian Open provided golf fans with gloomy weather, a record birdie barrage, delays, a play-off and, at the end of it all, an Australian winner.

Nathan Green defeated South African Retief Goosen on the second play-off hole to capture his first US PGA Tour title.

The 34-year-old closed with a four-under-par 68 to finish on 18-under 270 for the tournament along with Goosen, who finished with 69.

The competition had to be extended into a fifth day after heavy rain had fallen over four days – up to 10 centimetres had flooded the course.

Green then parred the second play-off hole at the Glen Abbey Golf Club while Goosen could only bogey.

The Australian, who has previously won the on European Tour, said it was worth waiting five days for his US$900,000 triumph. He said in an AFP article:

“It’s a huge surprise to finally win. This is where I started my pro career. I love coming up here. The people are great. I’m over the moon.”

Anthony Kim and Jason Dufner each shot 74 to finish four shots back of the leaders on 274 while Lee Janzen, Brandt Snedeker and Jerry Kelly tied for fifth on 275.

Earlier in the tournament, Mark Calcavecchia set a PGA Tour record with nine straight birdies.

In the second round, 2005 champion Calcavecchia was on fire after parring the first two holes of his round, though he felt he could have done better than his score of 65.

He subsequently finished tied for eight on 276.

In Europe, Argentina’s Ricardo Gonzalez won his fourth Tour title with victory at the SAS Masters in Malmo, Sweden.

Known as “The Axeman”, Gonzalez birdied five of the last six holes on the longest course of the Tour to snatch victory – his first in five years.

His final round of 69 gave him a total of 10-under-par 282 for the tournament and a two-stroke victory over Welshman Jamie Donaldson.

This was despite shooting 77 in the third round. Denmark’s Jeppe Huldahl, winner of the recent Welsh Open, was third after his closing 74, four strokes behind the winner.

Meanwhile, Japan’s Ai Miyazato ended her four-year wait for victory on the LPGA Tour when she won the Evian Masters in France, becoming the second first-time winner for the 2009 season.

She sank a birdie on the first play-off hole to beat Sweden’s Sophie Gustafson, who had forced extra-time by tapping in for birdie on the 18th.

Both players finished on 14-under-par 274 after Miyazato closed with 69 and Gustafson returned 70.

Meena Lee shot 65 in the final round to share third place with Cristie Lee, one stroke adrift of the leaders.

Tied for fifth on 11-under were Helen Alfredsson, Paula Creamer and Karrie Webb. World number one Lorena Ochoa was joint 40th on 286.

Casey leads Race to Dubai

It is well past the half-way stage of the inaugural Race to Dubai of the European Tour that eventually ends in a US$20 million grand finale called the Dubai World Championship.

There was a lot of hype leading up to its launch last year as European Tour organisers looked to lift a flagging product with some spice, mainly though a massive boost in prize money.

Whether it achieved its goal of providing decent competition for the US PGA Tour is debatable, despite the fact that several Americans had said they would play more tournaments in Europe this season.

Still, the likes of Anthony Kim, who has played eight tournaments on the new Tour, languish way behind the Europeans.

It is England’s Paul Casey who leads after the British Open with just under 2 million euros in prize money and with 11 tournaments under his belt.

Germany’s Martin Kaymer is second at a bit under 1.8 million euros after 14 tournaments with Australian Geoff Ogilvy proving to be the best pound-for-pound golfer so far in the Race with a little more than 1.5 million euros after only seven events.

He is one of two non-Europeans in the top-10, the other being Argentina’s Angel Cabrera, who is seventh on 1.14 million euros from eight tournaments.

Counting the Open at Turnberry, there have been 33 tournaments so far out of 53 on the Race calendar, which started with the Hong Kong Open last November.

From 2010 onwards, the season will start in January so the European Tour can make a clean break from a November start to a calendar year launch annually.

The Dubai World Championship is the final tournament for the leading golfers from the Race, which used to be the Order of Merit, with 10 million euros offered to the winner.

That Cink-ing Feeling

Sinking to his knees after converting match point in his Wimbledon semi final Andy Roddick mouthed “I’m sorry.”

In his moment of triumph the American immediately realised that his victory would cast him in the role of villain. By beating Andy Murray he had condemned British tennis fans to another year of misery. Elated by victory Roddick maintained the humanity to sympathise with those haunted by the ghost of Fred Perry.

In this most enthralling of sporting summers another American was destined to fulfill the same role of victorious villain on Sunday. Stewart Cink – quiet, methodical, modest – kept his head as others drifted last Sunday afternoon. His prize was the ultimate in professional golf but to hoist the Claret Jug he first had to hijack Tom Watson.

Watson, the eternal favourite of the Scottish links, had written his own script with a virtuoso display. As Sunday wore on we all began to worship in the Church of Tom, a sacred place where the impossible was suddenly so very, very possible. Like Francis Ouimet or like Jack Nicklaus on that fabled Masters Sunday in 1986, Watson stood on the brink of something heroically special, a victory that would transcend golf and become one of the most compelling sporting tales of our age.

And then along came Stewart Cink. The unassuming American is the very model of the solid professional golfer. Often in the mix but rarely the main attraction. Until his final, heroic birdie putt Cink had, like so often before, gone about his business under the radar.

But suddenly he had posted the clubhouse target. When Watson couldn’t beat him over 72 holes it seemed inevitable that Cink would take the play off. Destiny, fickle as ever, had overlooked the veteran and put its arm round Cink.

It was not the result that we wanted. We had tried to will Watson to the par he needed but we had failed. There was a feeling of emptiness during the play off, what we hoped for seemed so exceptional that anything else was an anti climax.

But we should not let our feelings for Watson and our sense of loss for what might have been cause us to overlook Cink. Make no mistake his play throughout the week merited the victory. He came to Turnberry with a job to do and he got it done over 76 gruelling holes. Links might not be his natural habitat but he has worked hard to master the ancient form of the game. Finally that work had paid off.

He was as gracious in victory as Watson was in defeat. He knew this wasn’t the ending that the press or the fans wanted. But he had become the champion golfer of the year by playing the most consistent golf of the week. He apologised for ripping up the script but no apology was needed.

Paul Lawrie’s win at Carnoustie in 1999 is still remembered for Jean van de Velde’s 72nd hole implosion. But beneath the headlines about the wet footed Frenchman lay the truth of Lawrie’s remarkable 67 on the final day of that harshest of championships to pull off perhaps the most incredible comeback in Open history.

It is Cink’s misfortune to have won the “Watson Open” but, like Lawrie, it his good fortune to have his name on the famous old jug. The harsh judgement of history will record only the winners and losers. Watson provided the stunning subplot but Cink, head held high, emerged as the winner and nothing can take that away from him.

His Open pedigree has not been great – one top ten from 10 previous attempts – but, as Watson emphatically illustrated, form is not always a prerequisite on a blustery links. Where others flapped, flailed and ultimately failed Cink remained steadfast. He was the only man in the field that coped with everything that Turnberry could throw at him. That is the quality that wins Opens.

We will long remember everything Tom gave us over the week. But we shouldn’t let that blind us to Stewart Cink’s achievement. Once again the Open sifted through the field and selected the worthy winner. Modest as he is Cink deserves our acclaim as a fine and deserving champion.

Driving distance has new meaning on world’s longest golf course

It is not so much the length of the fairways that makes this golf course special. It is the distances between holes.

Indeed, the Nullarbor Links in Australia stretches right across the country. It is an 842-mile journey that makes it, according to the owners, the world’s longest golf course.

The hazards are more apparent in the drives between holes as trek-minded golfers traverse merciless Outback terrain and take in breathtaking scenery.

They tee off on hole one at Ceduna in South Australia and eventually putt out on the 18th in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia.

Not all of the holes are new, though. The par-71 uses some holes from existing golf courses while others were built anew, close to essential facilities such as hotels.

The idea was the brainchild of Alf Caputo, the project manager, and Bob Bongiorno, a former motel manager. Caputo said in an AP article:

“I don’t think there is any two ways about it, it will be unique. The scenery along this stretch of the Eyre Highway is unlike anywhere else in the world. It sounds like a bit of a pipe dream, but when we checked it all out, it was so basic. It doesn’t involve any million-dollar spending. We had the infrastructure at some of the holes already, and we’ll pass along proceeds from the green fees to the roadhouses and motels to ensure that maintenance is kept up.”

According to the report, the course cost only $640,000 to set up, with a third coming from a government grant to promote tourism. Green fees are only $40 a shot, though the long journey and hotel stays will surely involve a heftier investment from avid golfers.

Among the sights the golf tourists can see is the scene where the NASA research lab Skylab fell in 1979 and Fraser Range, which is the largest eucalyptus hardwood forest in Australia.

The course is expected to open for business on August 15, 2009.

ShowMeTheGolf.TV With Sam Torrance

Having recently met Tim Southwell, the co-founder of Loaded and founder of GolfPunk, at The London Golf Show I have great pleasure in introducing his new Golf Web TV channel and Social Networking site called Showmethegolf.TV

Over the past six months the site has gone from strength to strength, and no wonder when you have Sam Torrance, the former Ryder Cup player and captain, and Jay Townsend, the highly regarded TV and radio commentator on board.

Every half hour show celebrates every nook and cranny of the game, with player interviews, celebrity golf challenges, new golf gear, loud opinions, instruction, tour news, and a host of other innovative golf capering ideas.

I’m not sure if it’s true, but Tim tells me he got the idea for the show after apparently drinking too much root beer and watching Wayne’s World followed by Happy Gilmore!

Along with Sam and Jay, Tim is joned by presented by Sophie Horn – a 4 handicap golfer.

Check out Sam being interviewed by a 9 year old with the biscuit tin challenge!

I recommend you check out further great golf videos at Showmethegolf.TV

A Golfer For The Ages

It was, in the end, not age that withered him. Tom Watson, standing on the brink of golf’s most romantic victory on a course he might as well own, was struck down by the lack of belief in his putter that has haunted his career for so long.

In a week when he spoke of spirituality, when he’d apparently stopped the ageing process and turned back time Watson was, at the crucial moment, shown to be a mere mortal after all. Two poor swishes of that creaking putter and the moment had gone.

Not the oldest Open winner since Old Tom Morris, the oldest major winner since Julius Boros, not a ninth major, a record equalling sixth Open. It wasn’t to be. The records remain, a thousand golfing encyclopedias remain safe from the pulping factory.

He began the week as a nostalgia act. Appearing one last time at Turnberry the papers treated old TW as a tribute act to himself, there to smile his gap toothed smile and acknowledge the applause as the main event – dominated by an altogether different TW – raged on around him. Hell, the old boy might even make the cut and give the weekend galleries the chance to laud him and the Sunday press the chance to patronise him.

And then he gathered himself together and shot 65 on the opening day. Friday morning’s headlines were written, a final day in the sun for the most popular duellist of them all.

When the bogeys arrived like gunfire on Friday it was as expected. But Watson – egged on by Sergio Garcia and Matteo Mannassero – responded as others, most notably Tiger Woods, simply wilted. Not only did he steady the ship but he fought back to take the lead. That leaden putter suddenly seemed sprinkled with magic dust, the blunt instrument of despair turned into the magician’s wand.

The greatest links golfer ever born would play in the final round on Saturday just as he had in 1977. And then, of course, he could slide down the leaderboard with some dignity. Artificial hip and all he had fought the good fight, upped the nostalgia stakes and given the 138th Open a story more enthralling narrative than Scottish spats or Tiger’s tantrums. But like an ageing gunslinger this self styled old geezer would not go quietly into the night.

On Saturday evening, dealing once again with the slings and arrows of links golf with a serenity bordering on the transcendental, Watson kept his share of the lead. In a week of snakes and ladders on the leaderboard Watson had been the one constant. If nothing else his staying power made him a contender going into Sunday.

Or did it. We wanted it. Sitting at home watching on the TV we wanted it. Sitting in the press centre dreaming of our Watson filled copy we wanted it. In galleries preparing to roar on the most cherished of all Scotland’s adopted sons we wanted it. And yet each of us, surely, felt that this couldn’t happen. In a world of scepticism and cynicism, where sport is about bottom lines and drugs tests, where the media launches misery at us with a scattergun, this most perfect of all stories, this fairytale of epic proportions couldn’t happen, could it?

Oh, but yes it could. Watson, “Oor Tam,” wobbled but only as others wobbled too. Level par would surely now win it for him. The kid from Kansas, his face now showing the lines of every missed putt, back at Turnberry, his own yellow brick road, needing only 70 for a victory that would overshadow everything else he had done in golf. The victory that would immediately enter the folklore of this grand old championship.

Already in the pantheon of greats, this Tom, would have been placed on the pedestal reserved for Morris, old and young. A third Tom who we watched with awe when he was young and then, for four days, came together again to watch with joy, incredulity and laughter when he was old.

The others knew their part. Ross Fisher looked to make the early running but collapsed. Lee Westwood stuttered, stumbled and fell at the last. All around the likely lads, the men expected to deny the old timer, fell away. Only Cink kept his cool. Playing a few groups back on a major Sunday your job is to post a target. Cink ripped up the fairytale and stuck doggedly to his own script.

The play off was never in doubt. Watson’s dreams, the dreams of every sports fan, were in smithereens the minute that putt sliced off his putter.

For 71 and a half holes, for four wonder filled days, golf’s ghosts and the spirits of Tom’s own legend had smiled on Turnberry. When they vanished they left only a sense of disbelief. The genius of Watson’s artistry left us anticipating the impossible, he brought the essence of sport to life again. But triumph and failure are uneasy bedfellows in all of sport’s most intriguing narratives.

“The old geezer almost did it” Watson said afterwards. No, Tom, for four incredible days in Ayrshire you did much more than that. Thanks for everything.

Cink prevails to win Open as Watson fades in play-off

It was the kind of ending that was heartbreaking for most of fans but one that doesn’t begrudge hard-working Stewart Cink.

A Tom Watson victory would have been a great fairytale. But as these things happen in golf, eight feet of putting length is a long distance between glory and despair.

For Watson, it was eight feet too far. For PGA Tour veteran Cink, it was his chance to snatch the Claret Jug from a 59-year-old who has already held it five times.

Cink made a 12-foot birdie on the final hole of the British Open, leaving Watson needing to sink his eight-foot par attempt for victory. He missed and it went to a four-hole play-off after both players ended on two-under-par 278.

Cink, who closed with 69 in the final round at Turnberry, dominated the play-off, eventually beating Watson by six strokes. If Cink had been a spectator, he would probably have rooted for Watson against himself. AP quoted him as saying:

“It’s been a surreal experience for me. Not only playing one of my favourite courses and a wonderful tournament, but playing against Tom Watson. This stuff doesn’t happen. I grew up watching him on TV, hoping to follow in his footsteps, not playing against him. My hat’s off to him. He turned back the clock. Just did a great job. I speak for all the rest of the people here, too.”

Watson’s defining moment came when he stood over his eight-foot attempt that would have given him victory. But he knew from the moment he hit it that it was not hard enough and he eventually settled for a 72.

Since day one of the tournament, he was in contention and was on the verge of being the oldest major champion ever. But even in defeat, he was gracious and upbeat. He said:

“This ain’t a funeral, you know. It would have been a hell of a story, wouldn’t it? And it was almost. Almost. The dream almost came true. I made a lousy putt (on the 18th). Then in the play-off, it was bad shot after another.

“It was fun to be in the mix again, having kids who are my kids’ age saying, ‘What are you doing out here?’ It was nice showing them you can still play. I’m sure I’ll take some good things from it. But it’s still a disappointment.”

Twenty-two years ago, Watson had his famous “Duel in the Sun” against Jack Nicklaus at this very golf course and then emerged victorious.

It was also a great tournament for England’s Lee Westwood, who finished third on one-under 279 along with Chris Wood.

Westwood had out-played Tiger Woods during the first two rounds as the world number one missed the cut for only the second time as a pro in a major.

Westwood had a final round of 72 while Wood surged up the leaderboard with 67.

Luke Donald, Mathew Goggin and former US Open champion Retief Goosen were tied for fifth on 280 while five golfers finished on joint-eighth 281 – Ernie Els, Thomas Aiken, Soren Hansen, Richard S. Johnson and Justin Leonard.

Woods misses cut at the Open

For the first time in his career, Tiger Woods’ final round at the British Open didn’t necessitate wearing the famous red shirt.

One of Woods’ trademarks is the donning of red tops in the fourth round of a tournament. But Woods will not have to wait that long at Turnberry in Scotland because he has missed the cut.

Instead, it was black attire that ended the show for the American. It is only the second time as a professional that he has failed to survive the weekend in a major tournament. The previous one was at the 2006 US Open, only weeks after his father had passed away.

Before that, it was the 1996 US Masters, when he was still an amateur.

While in the first two majors of the year, the US Masters and US Open, Woods could at least say he showed some fire, this was not the case at the 2009 Open.

Scores of 71 and 74 meant the world number one finished tied for 74 on five-over 145, one stroke off the half-way cut. Meanwhile, Tom Watson – who won the 1977 Open at Turnberry after a famous duel with Jack Nicklaus – and Steve Marino led after two rounds on five-under 135.

Birdies at 16 and 17 raised hopes that Woods would be able to sneak into the weekend fray but it was not to be.

It is not that Woods has forgotten how to win since coming back from an eight-month lay-off for knee surgery.

He has done that three times so far this season on the US PGA Tour, most recently at the Memorial Tournament. The question is: has he forgotten how to win in majors, of which he has 14? Woods was emphatic in his answer, as he said:

“I know how to win majors: you have to play clean. I just couldn’t do that here. I just hit some bad shots and I couldn’t get it back. It was just problem after problem out there.”

Woods’ final chance for a major title this season is at the US PGA Championship next month.