Deep Six: Woods' Woes
Tiger Woods had to know it was too good to be true. Having made birdies on the difficult sixth, a par-4 of 492 yards, in each of the first three rounds, the same sixth would be where chances of his 15th major championship went up in a couple of puffs of sand.
Woods was four shots back of leader Adam Scott when he hit his second shot at the sixth into a left greenside bunker. Turns out, the ball was buried near the face of the sod wall of one of the 206 revetted bunkers at Royal Lytham & St Annes.
Trying to play toward the hole, Woods’ ball hit the bunker face and shot backward, nearly hitting him on the rebound. He played his next, practically sitting down, and the ball squirted out of the bunker to his right, near the front of the green. From there, he three-putted for a triple bogey 7 and put himself right out of the Open Championship. He finished the day with 3-over 73 and tied for third with Brandt Snedeker.
“The gameplan was to fire it into the bank, have it ricochet to the right and then have an angle to come back at it,” Woods said afterward. “Unfortunately, it ricocheted to the left and almost hit me. Then I tried to play an interesting shot after that and ended up three-putting.”
In the following group, the final of the day, both Scott and Graeme McDowell also made bogey, McDowell from the same bunker that caught Woods. McDowell played sideways back into the bunker and got up and down from there for bogey.
For the week, the sixth was the most difficult hole at Lytham with only 15 birdies and it played to a stroke average of 4.477.
Scott was in a bit of a ticklish rules situation at the par-5 seventh. About to play his third from next to the green, his ball moved and a rules official deemed that Scott was not the cause of the ball movement. However, an R&A rules official commentating ESPN said he might have ruled differently.
R&A boss Peter Dawson spoke early Sunday on two hot topics. First to the long (or belly) putter controversy: “It’s broadly known that the R&A and the USGA are taking a fresh look at this,” Dawson told ESPN. “These conversations are ongoing but I think it’s a sufficiently important subject for the R&A and USGA to make an announcement pretty soon.”
Dawson added he expects to make a public announcement on this subject “in months rather than years.”
As to the land troubles surrounding the Rio de Janeiro site of the 2016 Olympic golf competition, Dawson said: “The land has been acquired, the money’s in place and they’re going to break ground around October time, which will give us plenty of time to be ready for the Games.”
Rory McIlroy was a well-placed a 3-under par for his first 14 holes Thursday.
From that point, things got rather more eventful. His tee shot at the 15th kicked out of bounds via the head of a 16-year-old teenager by name of Jason Blue and cost him a double-bogey 6.
Though McIlroy had said, a tad ruefully, that the lad could have headed it the other way, he could not have been more sympathetic at the time.
According to James Richards, a Yeoman of Signals who had played in the Army-Navy match for Help the Heroes at the start of the week, the accident had sounded like a ball cannoning off cement. Richards was first on the scene where he stemmed the flow of blood by compressing the wound with his hands.
He was still in attendance when a shocked McIlroy arrived on the scene. “Rory was great with the boy,” said Richards. “He said, ‘I don’t know whether this will help,’ before handing over a glove signed with a ‘Sorry,’ a sad face and a signature.”
The victim, who was soon whisked away to a hospital by the paramedics, turned out to be fine. Indeed, by nightfall, he was seeing his injury as the best of lucky breaks. McIlroy, it turned out, had paid for him and his mate to spend the night in a top hotel instead of their tented lodgings.
Later there was talk that that night stay had been extended to a week and, according to ESPN-TV, Blue might receive “walking around money.”
“Clearly in the rules, the fact is if somebody invented the belly putter tomorrow, it would not pass.” – Three-time major champion Padraig Harrington.
Jeev Milkha Singh, who earned his place in the Open at the eleventh hour by winning the Scottish Open, walked on to the first tee at Lytham for the first time in his life on Tuesday afternoon.
“A par 3,” he noted, wide-eyed. Seconds later and the train brushing past the tee-side trees came as another surprise. Rather too much of a one.
As the result of the unexpected noise, Singh topped his shot 30 yards down the path. The spectators looked on in stunned silence until Pablo Larrazabal, Singh’s playing companion, stepped forward to break the ice.
“He has too much money in his pockets,” announced the Spaniard, in a reference to the player’s £416,000 prize-money of the week before.
Singh had a second try and, this time around, he dispatched the ugliest of low slices short and right of the green.
“That’s much better!” cried the mischievous Larrazabal, who then proceeded to lead the crowd in a round of applause.
Irish hearts took a real battering during the R&A press conference Wednesday, when the possibility of the Open returning to Royal Portrush was raised. Short of dismissing the prospect out of hand, Dawson, chief executive of the R&A, could hardly have given it a cooler response.
“We don’t feel short of Open venues now,” was probably his most telling comment, less than three weeks after a highly emotional Irish Open over the Dunluce links, where every conceivable attendance record for a European Tour event was broken. Clearly, those events along with the remarkable, major successes of Northern Ireland’s McDowell, Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke, had sparked far too much optimism north and south of the Irish border.
Dawson added: “In my estimation, a huge amount of money would need to be spent to make Royal Portrush a sensible choice. That’s not a criticism of Royal Portrush; it’s a wonderful golf course. But the commercial aspects of it are quite obvious. It’s going to take some time to come to a view, and the view may be no.”
It was as well the R&A were not listening when Gary Player went on the attack in the HSBC Pavilion on Saturday morning. He was talking about the ball and how he wants to see it cut back 50 yards for the professionals. The amateurs, he added, could carry on as they are.
“The R&A,” he ventured, “say the game is the same for everyone, pros and amateurs. Well, it doesn’t begin to be the same. Thirty years from now, the professionals will be driving nine of the greens at St Andrews. Is that what they want?”
Open venues, of course, are being tightened where they are not being lengthened and, in Player’s opinion, this is doing nothing to add to the spectacle.
“Thirty-seven of the 50-odd members of the public I have talked to this week,” he said, “have told me that they didn’t come to Lytham to see the golfers hitting irons off the tees. They want to see them whacking their drivers.” (It seems he had not asked these people if it would take away from the magic if the pros were stripped of 50 yards.)
On the subject of drugs, Player described drug testing throughout sport as “pitiful.” He thought that golf and tennis were probably alone in being relatively clean before noting that drugs could definitely work in golf: “They can make you stronger and allow you to practise for longer.”
Wayne Grady, on hearing Player’s comments about the ball, said it was time someone took heed. Alas, he had heard from a gentleman at the USGA that officialdom never listens to players beyond their prime.
First impressions at Royal Lytham last week were not the best.
Some players were complaining darkly about the wet bunkers, others about the length and soggy depths of the rough. Paul Casey used the word “brutal,” while Woods suggested that it was verging on the unplayable in spots.
The elements were even more hostile – black skies and angry squalls. Yet, when everyone was on the way home on Monday evening, the sun came out and there was a moment to lift the spirits.
Clarke, the defending champion, was standing in the garden of the nearby house ISM had rented for the week. He was waiting for the Daimler which was to take him and his manager to a Titleist evening, only the car was lost.
Spectators making way home seized their chance.
They called to Clarke to ask if they could have their picture taken with him and Clarke, by way of presenting them with a better photo opportunity, invited each in turn to step into the garden.
If it rained for the rest of the week, those fans were going to go away happy.
“Now when it gets really bad weather, my misses in crosswinds are not as bad as they used to be, because it’s on the ground and out of the wind a lot quicker. And that’s made me really enjoy and appreciate playing links golf and playing in the elements.” – Phil Mickelson, prior to missing the cut at 11 over.
“I just do what I do.” – Woods after holing out of a greenside bunker at the 18th for a second consecutive 67.
And that is what it is.
In terms of feel-good factor, there were few stories over the week to beat that attaching to the 40-year-old Warren Bennett.
Bennett, who made the cut on 1-over par, was an out-and-out star in his amateur days. He played in the England team alongside Lee Westwood and won the silver medal at the Turnberry Open in 1994. Around which time, Michael Bonallack, the then Secretary of the R&A, said. “I wouldn’t mind betting that he will win the Open in the next 10 years.”
Bennett, who qualified for Lytham via two 68s at Hillside, captured the 1999 Johnnie Walker championship at Gleneagles but, with one appalling injury problem following hard on the heels of another, he had no option but to retire from the game in 2006. He ended up caddying for Trish Johnson on the Ladies’ European Tour.
“I wasn’t the best of caddies,” he admitted. “We had one top-five finish but, the moment I stopped, she won twice.”
Johnson, when she arrived to watch, laughed at that. “To be honest,” she said, “he was too nice to be a great caddie. ... Far too nice to give me the proverbial kick up the backside when I needed it.”
Bennett, who is 40 but feels 30 now that he is once again fully fit, decided that he would regret it forever more if he didn’t give himself one more chance. His wife, a primary school teacher, has been supporting him as he works with a coach for a first time in a bid to return to the main circuit.
“My competitive juices are flowing again,” he said. “This week is so important. It’s nine years since I earned any money.”
Making the cut at Lytham was worth a minimum of £9,000.
It was Harrington who captured shifts in attitude among the professionals since when he started on Tour 15 years ago. “Where I used to put players like Ernie Els and Colin Montgomerie on a pedestal, they don’t do that kind of thing anymore. Today’s young cubs think that if they’re on their games, they can win at once.”
On a slightly different tack, he said that the players no longer eased themselves into a tournament: “Nowadays, you have 100 guys at a regular event just charging for the finishing line from the word ‘Go.’ ”
The latter tied in with what Scott said at the end of his opening 64. Scott explained that he had often been guilty of “cruising a bit” at the start of a major – and that he and Steve Williams had agreed that they would play the first hole at Lytham as if it were the 72nd. “I was switched on right from the first tee, really focused,” said the Australian.
Just as everyone is wary of what they might pick up in a doctor’s waitingroom, so the medical centre at Lytham was not obviously the safest place to be. Early last week, Jim McArthur, the chairman of the Championship Committee, received word from the medical staff that balls were flying over the far end of the practice ground netting – a distance of some 325 yards – and landing in their compound.
On Wednesday night, the R&A moved the teeing area back some 10 to 15 yards. That helped but when, by the weekend, the medical compound was still an obvious danger zone, with three spectators said to have been hit, a tented tunnel was introduced.
“I wanted to play all four days here, and not have to sit around until Thursday of next week over at Turnberry (for the Senior British Open). So I’ll have something to do this weekend.” – Former Open champion Mark Calcavecchia, who finished two rounds at 1 under.
Robert Karlsson walked in after two holes of practice on Tuesday. An 11-time winner and among the fittest 42-year-olds you ever saw, the Swede had been assailed by a desperate case of the yips. He was struggling to take the putter back. Luke Donald’s caddie, John McLaren, described it as “probably the worst case I have ever seen and you felt so sad for him.”
There are plenty of people who like to find fault with Sergio Garcia but it was typical of the Spaniard that he was the first to put a comforting arm about the Swede.
Karlsson’s redundant caddie, Gareth Lord, switched to working for Donald when McLaren hurried down to London where his wife, Helen, was about to give birth. Georgina Elisabeth, was born on Friday and the caddie was back holding the bag rather than the baby on Saturday.
Snedeker was nothing short of amazing in his playing of the 18th in his secondround 64. First, he survived an endless wait on the tee as Fredrik Jacobson, in the three-ball in front, spent forever deciding what to do from a waterlogged bunker. (The Swede was given a slow hand-clap when finally he emerged.)
Next, after Snedeker had chopped his errant drive from the right rough, he had to cope with a crowd who were yelling angrily at the marshals who were impeding their view.
Snedeker’s way of coping? He hit through the hullaballoo to five feet.
There was no “tutting” and no posturing from a man who plays at a pace which makes sense.
For his Open Championship debut, 22-year-old amateur Alan Dunbar chose to pick the brains of a distinguished fellow Ulsterman. Indirectly, that is. The recently crowned Amateur champion had as his caddie, John Mulrooney, who was Clarke’s bagman in a glorious victory march at Royal St George’s 12 months ago.
Clarke and Mulrooney parted company last January but the pair met up again during practice at Lytham where the Rathmore amateur also joined fellow Portrush native McDowell. “Apart from his priceless experience, the fact that myself and John get on so well is a real bonus,” said Dunbar.
For an amateur to win the Open’s silver medal, he must play all four rounds. Regrettably, neither of the two amateurs at Lytham made it to the weekend. Dunbar followed an opening 75 with a commendable 71 but missed the cut on 6 over; Austria’s Manuel Trappel was rather more – a little matter of 17 over after rounds of 74 and 83.
A book recounting the fascinating story of the first Open at Lytham was launched Wednesday on the outskirts of Lytham St. Annes. “Bobby’s Open: Mr Jones and the Golf Shot that Defined a Legend” (Corinthian Books) has been written by Dr. Steven Reid, the 1996 captain of Royal Lytham and the current medical officer of the Royal and Ancient.
“The Shot” was a remarkable effort of 180 yards from sand high on the left of the 17th fairway which Jones executed with a mashie-iron (4-iron) en route to victory in the 1926 Open. And in recounting every conceivable detail of the event, the author has also unearthed hitherto unpublished correspondence between Jones and the host club.
For one potential purchaser, the one signature was not enough. He wanted Bobby Jones’ as well.
“But the 70 for me today, 70 was a steal, and 69 would have been a miracle. I was really sixes and sevens with my game.” – Harrington after a third round 70.
“I’d rather it be me on the leaderboard. Who cares about the other people?” – Bubba Watson after a third round 68.
Montgomerie, in his role as president of the Golf Foundation, presented Peter Alliss with a Spirit of Golf award for everything he has done for the game.
As Monty said, the old commentator was going to be much missed when finally he lays down his microphone: “He’s transcended the game, if you like. I know myself that if I hear his voice, I’ll sit down and watch regardless of the event.”
Prior to the presentation, Alliss happily agreed to commentate on a Tri-Golf children’s event which showcased the progress of HSBC Golf Roots in local schools. He did it brilliantly – and poked gentle fun at Monty in the process. When Monty finished second behind the children in a Tri-Golf challenge, Alliss adopted a slightly weary voice to say that this was sadly typical. ... One more example of the Scot being the bridesmaid rather than the bride.
“Well, the kids are all calling me Mr. Watson now. That’s number one. And it’s, Tom, please. But the crowds are very appreciative. And as I said on the interview in there, the feeling is very mutual. I have a wonderful, wonderful feeling about the way the game of golf is perceived, played and understood over here. It’s really, really special for me.” – Tom Watson after making the cut at age 62.
“The only person that scares me is myself.” – McDowell in the top 10 after round three.
“Well, I’m a contender to win most majors. I play nicely most weeks. And over the last 12 or 13 major championships I’ve given myself lots of good chances. So I’m going to have another chance in three weeks’ time, aren’t I?” – Westwood after barely making the cut.
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