Date: July 19, 2013
Author: Peter Stone /

Stone: Outside the Ropes from London

You arrive in London in the most spectacular fashion 45 years after the first time – and umpteen times since. Land of Hope and Glory, Rule Britannia and more British patriotic anthems blare over the cruise ship s loudspeakers as The Thames is lined with thousands waving the Union Jack and cheering as it passes through the raised Tower Bridge to dock. It’s a rare sight not just for the passengers but the locals as well. The wireless Internet on the boat has been on a go-slow, the four-page daily newsletter contains only the bare bones. The outside world almost ceases to exist for 12 days. Then it s back to reality. The cab driver, recognising your accent, gives you stick about Australia s loss to the Poms in the first test at Trent Bridge. The Embankment along the Thames is choked with traffic; tens of thousands wait behind barriers outside Buckingham Palace awaiting news of the birth of the new Royal. You ve heard on the ship from an American couple Phil Mickelson has won the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart, but feel starved of other golf news. It is the day before the first round of The Open Championship and I buy seven newspapers and turn past the back page headlines of Chelsea s bid to lure Wayne Rooney from Manchester United with an initial transfer offer to Man U of 20 million pounds that was rejected to find the golf behind the build-up to the second test at Lords. Mickey Arthur has turned feral and claimed Shane Watson is one of the reasons for his dismissal as Australian coach. So, what were the headlines? Tiger Woods reckoned he’s as good as ever, but admitted the opposition has improved. Considerably you d have to say given that Woods has been major-less since winning his 14th which was the 2008 US Open. When it comes to winning a regular tournament he is as good as ever. No doubt. Majors? They ve become his Achilles heel, maybe even his choking point. Elsewhere in the papers the question was pondered whether Justin Rose, winner of US Open last month, could draw on the magic and inspiration of Andy Murray s Wimbledon victory. Then, yesterday, the golf news was dominated by criticism from Nick Faldo, or Sir Nick to give him his correct title in this part of the world, that world No 2 Rory McIlroy should concentrate on his golf. McIlroy might be Irish but he was far from aggressive in his response. Well, I saw what Nick said, that I should be on the course nine-to-five. Well, I was on the range at 6.32 am (of Wednesday) and got out of the gym at 4.13 pm. So, that s a nine hour day compared with his eight hour day. Nick should know how hard this game is, McIlroy said. The winning headline on that issue was surely the tabloid Sun s Rory Is Sick Of The F-Word. Of course, added to Faldo s criticism of McIlroy was continued speculation that his recent lack of form was due to both his long-time relationship with leading tennis player Caroline Wozniacki and his change of equipment, signing a reported $50 million five-year deal with Nike earlier this year. With Muirfield hosting The Open it was also an opportunity to re-open the gender debate. The Honourable Company of Gentlemen is the official name of the club formed at Muirfield two and a half centuries ago and it remains, well, a gentleman s club, not in the manner of Soho, but in its membership, with no women on its books. A number on Scottish politicians, including First Minister Alex Salmond, apparently last seen at the Wimbledon final in which Scot Andy Murray triumphed, have boycotted The Open. I loved the comment by the R&A s chief executive Peter Dawson, himself a Scot, on the Wednesday night TV news For some people it is a way of life they rather like on a Sunday morning the guy, or the lady, gets out of the marital bed, if you like, and plays golf with his or her chums and comes back in the afternoon that is not on any par with racial discrimination or anti-Semitism, he said. But, Augusta National finally ceded to public opinion earlier this year admitting two women members including former US Secretary of State Condeleza Rice, and no doubt the pressure will continue to mount on Muirfield and other male-only golf clubs around the world. The Open Championship, with its one-tee start, is long. Our open champion Pete Senior headed the field out at 6.32am with Stephen Dartnall in the final group at 4.13pm. At 9am, the BBC began with its 40-hour coverage of the championship with the dapper Ivor Robson introducing the three-time Open champion Faldo to the tee. As an aside, Robson, whose distinctive introductions rise to almost falsetto tones as he concludes, he has the longest day of anyone on course. He does not leave the tee box until the field is despatched, not even for a call of nature. For someone with a dodgy prostate it could be rather stressful, even embarrassing. He admitted to me a few years back he drinks very little fluid through the day, hydrating later in the evening. It is his 40th Open Championship. It was Faldo s 56th birthday, and his first tournament since the 2010 Open at St Andrews. Muirfield is special to him. He won one of his three championships on the almost treeless links where the only water in sight is that of the Firth of Forth. Famously, or infamously to those of us in the Fourth Estate, Faldo said during his victory speech that he would like to thank the media from the heart of his bottom. Still, when he joined our number as a TV commentator, he became full of bonhomie towards us. Call it his wisdom or irony given his criticism of McIlroy, they both finished on the final score eight over 79. It will take a massive turnaround for either to make the cut. A few shots got away from me a few silly mental errors yes, just stupid. Sometimes I walk around out there like I m unconscious, was McIlroy s summation. Mickelson, the all-American hero to many, compiled a 69, but looked a touch more business-like than usual. His smile was missing, but he was forever courteous to the gallery applause; a tip of the cap, a nod of the head. His demeanour barely altered when he three-putted the last from no more than two metres. Early, his putting was superb, and one wondered if The Open would at last be kind to him. Playing the ball along the ground, instead of the air that is the American game, is not his forte. Woods though is surely casting an ominous shadow over the field. He also sits on two under par 69, three behind the pace of former Masters champion Zach Johnson, but it was the manner in which Woods played yesterday that impressed the most. Those who read my observations through the years would know I am no fan of Woods, not because of his quite supreme golfing skills, but rather the way he almost shows contempt for the game with his foul language and temper tantrums. Maybe yesterday he realised he was in the company of honourable Edinburgh gentlemen and behaved according. Or maybe it is a calming influence from his new lady in life Lindsey Vonn, the champion American skier. He dragged his opening tee shot off the first tee into the left rough and a clump of fescue. The ball was unplayable and he took the penalty. He also took bogey which was probably par for the course as he was among the majority who signed for a bogey five or worse. He smiled, he tipped his cap in the same manner as Mickelson and, well, generally behaved impeccably. The Masters champion of a couple of years ago, Charl Schwartzel didn t. He smashed his club into the rock hard turf in displeasure over a shot and it snapped. He picked up the shaft, but left the club head for a souvenir hunter. But let s not jump the gun. Through his drought of major wins, Woods has been in contention several times, but the weekend has done him in. It still remains my view his sole ambition left is to surpass Jack Nicklaus record of 18 majors. McIlroy, once regarded as the successor to Woods as the supreme golfer of this generation, warmed this hacker s heart when, on the 15th, he putted from the front of the green into the back bunker. It was Shades of me putting into the water from the green on the par three 17th at Castle Hill, venue of this year s NSW Open. We nearly had Greg Norman win the 2008 British Open and then Tom Watson in 2009. Now, we have 56-year Mark O Meara at four under just one behind Johnson I can win this thing, he said. But there is never a championship anywhere around the globe where there is not grumbling we d call it whingeing. The greens were firm, running at 11 on the stimp meter at the start of play and quickening through the day. Ian Poulter was particular outspoken, taking to Twitter to vent his spleen over the greens and several of the pin placements. Mickelson s view must be respected, as he had a respectable score Playing early gave us at least a fighting chance, he said. If there is a joy in writing of The Open sitting in a hot apartment with no air-conditioning in London s current heatwave watching on TV, it is to be able to listen to the commentary of Peter Alliss who is now 82. Eight hours into the telecast, he muttered when a player showed disgust with a shot: It’s been a long day, we re all getting a little huffy, puffy. No doubt Alliss was, but the lure of a strong drink drove him onwards. And, yes, I switched channels to the Lords Test at 11.50am and saw the score was 3-28. Let s leave it to our cricket writers to bemoan the stumps score of 7-287.