Date: July 20, 2013
Author: Peter Stone /

Stone: A lesson in patience with The Mechanic

Who ever thought of this gig to be behind the ropes in London enclosed in four walls watching the 11-hour daily telecast of the golf from north of the border in Scotland? Guilty, your honour. thought it not a bad idea either. Make a few pithy observations and hopefully a few intelligent ones – while watching the BBC and listening to the commentary of Peter Alliss and his lesser colleagues. As you may have gathered yesterday, I m on holidays with the beloved but a prior engagement today ruled out being at Muirfield in person for a 19th Open Championship and, blessedly some might say, I ll be missing tomorrow, but if the powers that be permit, I ll be back on Monday for a wrap-up. Golf is my passion, but it becomes claustrophobic between four walls. You long to walk out of the press tent well, room in my case to breathe the atmosphere of the golf course and the players and spectators; or, just the fresh air of a smog-free hot London day. The words stir crazy come to mind despite the voices of Alliss and my good friend Ken Brown emanating from the TV. You start writing hoping that with a few tweaks you can push the send button around 10pm 17 hours after you woke for a morning walk. I remember back in the 1990s with the Sydney Morning Herald on a Friday night with its ridiculously early edition times writing a complete story from the Australian Masters at Huntingdale and, with just two minutes before the copy needed to be despatched, American Peter Trevainen came in to lead by a shot into the weekend. The tweak to the story then was: Only those who d over-indulged in the corporate tents surrounding the 18th green remained in the gloom to see Peter Trevainen take a one shot lead into Well, here s how we started here from London. The dark mood of Ian Poulter who on Thursday led the chorus of dissent over the Royal and Ancient s setup of Muirfield for the 144th Open Championship had seemingly changed to match those colourful outfits he wears when he tweeted his 1.5 million or so followers. Those same apostles had read the previous day the fuming rants of the Englishman who has clearly played a little putt-put with his kids 8th hole is a joke. 18 needs a windmill and a clown face. Beyond angry at the moment. 5 bogeys for one over. So frustrating when you play so well and don t finish it off. Yes, late on Thursday night Armageddon was being predicted for the championship. R&A secretary Peter Dawson, who has neatly deflected the men-only membership policy of Muirfield, was equally conciliatory of the outrage, saying, We re conscious of player comments and have taken note as we plan how to set up the greens tomorrow. Alliss also threw his two-bob s worth into the debate describing Poulter s remarks as childish and that the Open is meant to be a PhD and not an O level (the English schooling grade for a humble pass). Poulter tweeted yesterday: A new challenge this morning wind in opposite direction. The Open is great as can watch the morning (TV) coverage and get a feel for the day. As he warmed up on the practice range, Alliss observed there was no steam emerging from Poulter s ears. I think they got it right today. They pulled it back just a bit, said Poulter who is very much in contention at one over par heading into the weekend. Yes, it was a vastly different challenge that faced the players yesterday. The prevailing westerly wind had switch to an easterly. The general consensus was there was a three or four club difference in the shots of the opening day. And, the greens were hand-watered overnight with the early players finding them far less nerve-wracking though they did become more shiny through the day. Woods, seeking that 15th major that has eluded him in the past five years, is lurking, prowling, stalking whatever verb you want to use at two under on Friday in company with Englishman Lee Westwood who has 14 less majors than Woods to his name. The world No 1 ground out his pars on the back nine, occasionally venting his frustration as any lip-reader would know, but he was happy enough with his day s labour. You going to have to do that (grind) because this golf course is getting quick. It was slow to start with this morning, there was quite a bit of moisture the greens were way different. We made a couple of ball marks early on but that changed through the day, Woods said. It was a different day. On asked of what lies ahead, Woods said: Yeah, it will be a fun weekend. This golf course is going to be difficult. I don t know what the weather forecast (though). Well, it s basically the same warm and an easterly wind again. If the golfing gods owe anyone a major, Westwood is surely near the front of the queue. In the past three years, he has finished runner-up twice and had three third place finishes. He was world No 1 for a brief period just two years ago after winning the Colonial tournament on the PGA Tour. The Englishman has been thereabouts in the year s first two majors tied eighth in the Masters and tied 15th in the US Open. Britain is not only basking in sunshine right now but it has also been basking in recent sporting triumphs. Barring absolute disaster, or yet another remarkable effort from Alberto Contador, Chris Froome should win the Tour de France following on Andy Murray s victory at Wimbledon and Justin Rose winning last month s US Open. That s not to mention the British Lions series win over the Wallabies and, well, let s not mention the current state of the Ashes. The weakness for Westwood has been in his short game, but he’s worked hard on his chipping and pitching and, thanks to his near neighbour Ian Baker-Finch in West Palm Beach, Florida, his putting has dramatically improved. If you were lined up in front of a firing squad and given the reprieve of selecting one player to hole a putt for your life IBF, the 1991 Open Champion at Royal Birkdale, would be my man. He’s been working with Westwood in recent times and yesterday there were so many clutch par putts that found the bottom of the hole until the final six holes. Through 12 holes in the second round, he was six under but bogeys at 13, 14 and 18 surely didn t really dampen his appetite for lunch. He would reflect, and thank IBF, for his tally of 29-26 putts for the two rounds thus far. Westwood has also been a dogged player. Well I recall his extended playoff victory over defending champion Greg Norman to win the Australian Open at Metropolitan. Perhaps harshly at the time I remember thinking the Shark had lost a little interest, or his pilot had the engine running in the private jet. At two under, he is in the thick of it once more. Westwood went to Muirfield a couple of weeks ago and, luckily, the wind was from the same direction as yesterday. He played just a few holes in practice earlier in the week as has become his normal practice leading into a major I want to be fresh, he said. Of Baker-Finch s contribution to his improved putting, Westwood said: It’s a little more connection with my arms and my body and then a few more tips to just play the line (of the putt) and make a nice smooth stroke. I feel very comfortable now and that s always a good thing. Westwood s good mate Darren Clarke birdied the third, fourth and fifth holes to thrust himself well in contention and must have surely been thinking of another world tour with the Claret Jug, stopping for a few jars of Guinness along the way as he did after winning at Royal St George s in 2011. His daydream was shattered he probably thought when he took a quadruple bogey at the sixth, taking three shots to get out of one the wretched greenside pot bunkers that litter the links of the honourable gentlemen of Muirfield. Not so. He is just one over par and will be out late in the day. Miguel Angel Jimenez has one of those faces that are a cartoonist s dream yet his body is as supple as any other 49-year-old man could be, as he showed on the practice range cigar hanging from his lips before heading out in the afternoon. Jimenez is three under with rounds of 68-71, so can he win at the age of 49? Why not? You never know what might happen, he replied. There s truth in that. He was almost certainly enjoying another cigar back in his hotel, or rented digs, when he discovered he actually held a one shot lead heading into today s third round. Spain has had a couple of superb major champions, most especially the extraordinary Seve Ballesteros, and Jose Maria Olazabal. Olly will be heard from Barcelona and far away points of Spain should The Mechanic triumph. He leads Westwood, Woods, Henrik Stenson and Dustin Johnson while Adam Scott (one over and four behind), Jason Day (two over) and Marcus Fraser (three over) are far from out of the mix. There have been no dud winners of The Open at Muirfield which is a searching test of golf Trevino, Faldo, Watson and Els to name just four. And, Rory McIlroy? Well, every amateur psychologist in the Fleet St Media has analysed his mental state to the point of paralysis as they say about the golf swing. He may well end up on the couch of golf shrink Bob Rotella pretty soon. He can have dinner with Caroline Wozniaki wherever he pleases at the weekend after rounds of 79-75 (12 over) – and ring to make an appointment with Rotella.