Sports

Tiger Woods is headline act as players from either side of golf divide come together at 150th Open

[ad_1]

No-one present on a glorious Saturday at the Home of Golf before the start of the 150th Open would have guessed that here was a sport embroiled in a brutal civil war.

No more than three yards from the first tee, where all the action will begin at 6.30am on Thursday, a couple and their young son happily enjoyed a picnic. The boy was enthralled by an owl brought along from a local bird of prey centre that had settled in the middle of the teeing ground.

Down the fairway, fathers played football with their offspring and people took pictures next to the iconic bridge that crosses the Swilken Burn. Everyone gawped at the magnificent grandstands that frame the first and the 18th.

Tiger Woods walks the Old Course at St Andrews with Rob McNamara (L) and Justin Thomas (R)

Every so often a player as good as Viktor Hovland or Will Zalatoris would come along to play a practice round and the spectators would move in a mannerly fashion to the edge of the fairway to allow them to tee off and pass.

You wouldn’t see anything like that at Lord’s, five days before the Ashes, would you?

At the far end of the course, Phil Mickelson was practising on his own, watched for free by a handful of spectators who could barely believe they could stand a matter of feet away from the man with arguably the best short game in the history of the sport.

Mickelson’s presence was a reminder that this pastoral scene, that has been part of the charm of St Andrews for as long as the Open has been played, offered a stark contrast to what is going on in the trenches.

Woods checked on Saturday after staying on in Ireland following the JP McManus pro-am

Woods checked on Saturday after staying on in Ireland following the JP McManus pro-am

The left-hander, a prime contributor to the turmoil in the game thanks to his collaboration with the Saudi-backed LIV series, will not attend the Champions Dinner on Tuesday, in solidarity no doubt with the face of the organisation, Greg Norman, who was not even invited.

That told you everything you needed to know about where the R&A stand and the dim view they take at the idea that the most prestigious major championship to be staged in a generation could be hijacked, like so many other events, by the conflict.

Snubbing Norman will definitely help but only to a degree. Behind the scenes, the rumour mill is relentless. Jordan Spieth felt the need to put out a statement on Friday night reiterating that he will not be next to join the rebels.

Will it be the former Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama? The third LIV event takes place at the end of this month and you can be sure the Saudis will want at least one or two more big names.

Before all that, we have one final event where all the players from either side of the divide will be in the same place. A week where the action will be played under blessed blue skies with not a drop of rain in the forecast.

Two-time St Andrews champion Woods is the headline act at the 150th Open this week

Two-time St Andrews champion Woods is the headline act at the 150th Open this week

It will be a week of 400-yard drives and where the biggest controversy might well prove to be that the ball travels too far and it is destroying the Old Course. After the interminable LIV, the return of that old chestnut would represent a refreshing change.

In a nod to the wonders of modern medicine, it is an event graced by the presence of two-time St Andrews champion, Tiger Woods. When he decided at the back end of last year that he was going to put himself through weeks and months of pain in order to try to play competitive golf again, this was the event he had in mind, played on his favourite course in the world.

Woods checked in at St Andrews on Saturday after staying on in Ireland following the JP McManus pro-am.

On Thursday he played the sublime links at Ballybunion with Rory McIlroy. Imagine saying to 13 year-old Rory, when he had pictures of Tiger plastered all over his bedroom wall, that he would be going on a buddies’ trip with his idol 20 years on?

The fact Woods used a buggy at the pro-am to cut down on walking inevitably raised fears regarding how much his right leg can stand, after he withdrew from his last event, the USPGA Championship in May.

Phil Mickelson practised on his own at St Andrews amid the fall out from the LIV Golf series

Phil Mickelson practised on his own at St Andrews amid the fall out from the LIV Golf series

All the reports suggest the buggy was precautionary and that he was walking well enough at Ballybunion. He should certainly find the relatively flat ground at St Andrews more to his liking.

It is amazing to think this is McIlroy’s 15th year as a professional and he has played in a St Andrews Open only once. That was in 2010, when he began with a 63, only to follow it with an 80. He still finished tied third.

The Northern Irishman missed out in 2015 with a silly ankle ligament injury picked up playing football the week before that arguably changed his career.

He was flying at the time, the defending champion as well as holding the USPGA. As we know, he has not won a major since. Never underestimate the part that fickle fate plays in the Grand Slams.

This might be the first major since then where you could make a strong case for McIlroy to win.

Greg Norman, CEO of Saudi-backed LIV Golf, has not been invited to the Champions Dinner

Greg Norman, CEO of Saudi-backed LIV Golf, has not been invited to the Champions Dinner

The mental demons that have plagued him appear to have been quietened. It is almost as if becoming the spokesman for his sport with the stance he has taken against LIV has returned the authority to his game.

His driving is back to its majestic best and he is as good as anyone right now on the greens. The winner of the Claret Jug is going to have to hole more than his fair share of 6ft putts owing to the awkward places where the flags will be located and McIlroy has been on a roll in that department.

Everywhere you look there is plenty to anticipate, but it might be a few days yet before we can all settle down to enjoy it.

The LIV narrative is now too well entrenched. Jack Nicklaus is in the interview room tomorrow and will certainly be asked about it. Martin Slumbers, CEO of the R&A, will surely have to say something at his press conference on Wednesday.

Come Thursday, however, the game will tuck its dirty linen away. For four golden days in a soft s ummer breeze we can revel in all that is good about golf before the grim reality of Monday brings with it yet more LIV departures and self-destruction.

[ad_2]
Source link

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button