July 17, 2011

A few rounds in the wet

There is an old line about the surfer Greg Noll that he was surfing when everyone else was evacuating. Conditions at Royal St. George's never reached HURCON levels, but competitors at the British Open over the past two days might be forgiven for imagining they had.

The weather destroyed contenders like U.S. Open Champion Rory McIlroy ("not my kind of golf"), and unleashed for a time the zombie-champion, 61 year-old Tom Watson, who almost won outright in 2009. Phil Mickelson, who finished in a tie for second, said "if we had weather like we had [Saturday] morning the entire tournament, I don't know who's going to beat Tom Watson. He hits the ball so solid, he plays links golf, he hits a low, penetrating, running shot so well and controls his distance through his trajectory, it's really impressive to watch. He was behind me the first couple days, and I'd watch him hit approach shots because he just knows how to do it."

The Guardian tells the story of winner Darren Clarke, the man who mastered the elements, fended off a late charge from Mickelson, and appended a brilliant signature to an already-successful career.

With a nice lead and Mickelson self-destructing, Clarke played basic golf - no dumb risks, but not too conservative either. As he walked onto the green of the 18th hole, nothing short of complete neurological collapse could take his first major victory away from him. In hushed tones, the BBC announcer mentioned that he had an opportunity to do something no player had ever done - shoot below 70 in every round of the British Open...if he could make a tough eight foot putt. He lined it up perfectly, struck it, and watched it roll to within an inch of the hole. He looked up and grinned at the crowd, then tapped in for the victory - not immortal, after all, just a gifted man finishing up the finest performance of his life.


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