THE weather has not been great in the North West of England over the last few days. Even popping down the road to buy toothpaste and a newspaper has been something of a turbulent experience, so goodness knows what has been going through the minds of those attempting to play four rounds of golf at Royal Birkdale.
And yet, partly thanks to the wind and the rain, this year’s Open has been one of the most, um, open in years. BBC commentator Ken Brown suggested that anyone making the cut at the end of today’s play was in with a chance of winning the Claret Jug on Sunday evening.
Brown knows far more about golf than I do, so I’m willing to bow to his knowledge. Nobody is pulling away, because it is as much as anyone can do to get close to par. But even in such an open field, I’m pretty sure that the winner won’t be Greg Norman, even though the Aussie led for most of today before being overtaken this evening by South Korean KJ Choi.
Norman’s surge to the top of the leaderboard yesterday caused a new record to be set for most repetitions of the phrase “rolling back the years”. You see, Norman is 53, and nobody that old has ever won the Open before.
His performance has come as a surprise because: a) He hasn’t come remotely close to winning any of golf’s majors since he blew up spectacularly at the 1996 Masters, allowing Nick Faldo to claim the trophy, b) He’s got lots of business interests to keep him occupied, and hasn’t played much competitive golf in recent years, and c) He only got married three weeks ago – for the second time, to former tennis star Chris Evert – and could have been forgiven for having his mind on other things.
Norman has talked down his chances of winning, and I think he’s wise to do so. He hasn’t won a major for 15 years, and too much can go wrong over the final two days on a demanding course, especially as the weather forecast is worse for tomorrow. (Not good news, as I was planning to pop out for some bread.) Choi, 15 years Norman’s junior, is a better bet for the title. But given Brown’s ‘anything goes’ prediction, you might get a more accurate forecast by printing off the leaderboard from the web, shutting your eyes and sticking a pin in it.
Of course, much of the talk at this year’s Open has surrounded the familiar face who is missing. Yes, that’s right: Dougie Donnelly.
Donnelly’s jovial Scottish tones have, for years, described a number of incredibly slow-moving sports that bypass much of the population (bowls, curling, snail racing, Scottish football, and so on). And he has, for 18 years, been a part of the BBC’s Open team.
But not this year. According to the Scottish Sun and the Daily Mail, he learned that the BBC didn’t need him for the Open this year courtesy of a message left on his answerphone. (Could they not have told him face-to-face, I hear you cry. Well, it would have been a bit impractical, given that Donnelly lives in Glasgow and the bloke given the responsibility of telling him lives in London.)
Incidentally, if you are missing Dougie, you may wish to check out this remarkable YouTube clip from BBC Scotland’s archives, which not only features Donnelly looking about 12, but also contains a lot of people getting disturbingly excited about indoor bowls, a clip from rugby match played in an empty stadium which appears to have had the sound effects from Ben Hur dubbed on, and an indescribably coiffeured Archie Macpherson carrying out possibly the worst attempt to bluff through a technical fault in the history of Scottish broadcasting.
So no Donnelly at the Open, but has this been mentioned by any of the golfers at Royal Birkdale? No, they’ve all been too busy getting in a tizz over the wind and the rain. Indeed, there was one point where Colin Montgomerie looked as if he was ready to combust, as he tried to hack out of a particularly deep piece of rough and missed the ball.
It must be tough out there, but I think the weather has made this year’s Open. I want the bad weather to continue tomorrow, to ensure the drama is prolonged. Only the strongest mind and the steadiest nerve will triumph this weekend, and that’s how a top sporting event should be.