They came. They saw. But they didn’t conquer.
There was speculation in some quarters that the best players in the world might make Hoylake the worst choice of venue for the 135th Open Championship. The links were called “obsolete” and “a thing of the past”; but if Thursday proved anything it was that the course will remain an important part of the future of the greatest golf tournament in the world.
Despite a downpour in the small hours of this morning that softened up the fairways and made the greens more user-friendly, the links demanded the highest standards of accuracy and control. It was both intriguing and refreshing to watch the brightest talents carefully plot their way round with strategic use of irons and fairway woods off the tees, and all day we were treated to golf that demanded as much brain as brawn. Though it was golf that most of us cannot emulate we could entertain ourselves by trying to understand its many nuances.
Also heartening were the reactions of the players on completion of their rounds. Many evidently think that Hoylake is a stiff but fair test of golf and are eager to rise to its challenge.
If Day One was all about testing the links’ defences and probing any weaknesses, Friday should bring more fireworks as the leaders strive to maintain their grip and others attempt to battle their way into contention. The weather forecast predicts lower temperatures and the odd shower, though the heat wave could return at the weekend – meaning that on Sunday we could see a dramatic last day played on fiery fairways and unpredictable greens.
Woods casts his spell…
Tiger burned bright and Ernie was something Els – and already there have been predictions that the 135th Open’s final, dramatic act will be a Sunday shootout in the sun between these two great players.
It has also been pointed out that Tiger Woods has never lost a major he has lead after two days; that he enjoys turning his mind to links golf; and that he appears to be right back at the top of his game.
But it would be wrong to think that the script has been written. As Tiger himself said, “we have a long way to go” and, on a course where the margins for error are very narrow, we are promised another 36 holes of absorbing play and oscillating fortunes before the Claret Jug is handed to its new and rightful owner. As the third day begins those in contention will know that Hoylake can deliver triumph and despair in equal measure – there are birdies to be had and mistakes to be punished. A stumble by The Great One (and nothing resembling his fabulous but fortunate eagle two on the 14th), a little bit of magic from Els, DiMarco, Goosen and others and, you never know, that powerful Woods spell might be broken by the time Saturday is over…
Maybe Sunday will be more Gunfight at the OK Corral than High Noon.
For almost four decades, Hoylake has been the missing links of British golf. Now the course is back with a bang. Even though “mighty winds” have not blown and show precious little sign of doing so, the 135th Open is shaping up to be a great championship - intelligent golf of the highest quality, huge crowds, appreciative galleries, fabulous weather and a global shop window for England’s golf coast.
The stage is set…
“Sergio! Sergio! Wherefore art thou Sergio?”
Answer: one shot off the lead with Ernie Els and Chris DiMarco.
As the putter of leading man Tiger Woods cooled despite the heat and Ernie Els’ iron play lost direction, Sergio Garcia gave a bravura performance. He struck the ball beautifully and coped well with greens of changing colour and variable pace.
Chris DiMarco vied for top billing with plenty of straight hitting and confident putting, while Jim Furyk and Angel Cabrera played subtle supporting roles that were not short of star quality. Still waiting in the wings: Hideto Tanihara, Mark Calcavecchia and Adam Scott.
Which means that tomorrow will not be High Noon. Nor will it be Gunfight at the OK Corral. It could be The Magnificent Seven. Or even Ocean’s Eleven if someone lower down the leader board gets off to a flyer (assuming we can count the Dee Estuary as an ocean…)
That’s how wide open the 135th Open Championship is as we anticipate the fourth round.
An absorbing day’s play in front of large Saturday crowds ended with the tournament perfectly poised. Tomorrow one moment of madness, or one moment of luck…or one moment of genius (and let’s hope it’s the latter) could decide who wins the Claret Jug and is crowned champion golfer.
The course is now right on the edge, demanding ever more skill from those who maintain and play it.
It is ready for the final day – and what a day it promises to be.
The mighty champion…
Yesterday evening I sat here trying to draw movie parallels with what might transpire on the final day…but they didn’t quite pan out.
Instead of a Hollywood formula we were given something subtle. There was a happy ending, true, but it was one that begged questions – about perfectibility, about mortality, about faith, and about the nature of sporting genius.
Golf is the loneliest of games. The greatest and most ordinary players are painfully aware of the effect a troubled mind can have on a body trying to execute the most precise movements.
Today, Tiger Woods treated us to a display that wrote another chapter in the life story of history’s greatest golfer and, it seemed, allowed him to step from the shadow cast by the death of his influential and much loved father.
Tiger’s situation was not unique. Chris DiMarco was competing just weeks after the passing away of his mother. But whereas DiMarco sensed a presence, Woods dealt with an absence. DiMarco found company and took comfort in it, while Woods learned to play alone.
Both states of mind are admirable and a reminder that golf remains a game that brings out the best in people.
The 135th Open Championship at Hoylake was a great championship. Thanks are due to the many agencies and individuals that made it possible, to the players who played so well, and, above all, to those who spent their hard-earned money to form such enthusiastic and appreciative crowds.
Let’s hope we can be treated to another similar spectacle in the not too distant future.
Tiger practicing on 'Briars'
Tiger practicing on 'Hilbre'
The 2006 Open, Hoylake
10th hole 'Dee'
Phil Mickelson plays from bunker