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  • Alistair Tait

No Open Lottery Please!

If you thought deciding a major football tournament by penalties was a lottery, how about deciding the Open Championship based on what side of the draw players are on?

Seve Ballesteros called repeatedly for The Open to move to a two tee start for the first two rounds, precisely because who lifted the old claret jug was often decided by the weather.

Arguably no greater recent example of how weather decides who fights it out for golf’s greatest championship came in the 2016 at Royal Troon. Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson staged one of the greatest head-to-head contests in Open history over the Troon links, which Stenson won to become the first Swedish male to win a major. They were lucky, they had the better half of the draw that year.

As we reflect on this year’s Open Championship at Royal St George’s, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Darren Clarke was a fortunate man in so many ways 10 years ago when he lifted the old claret jug. Not only did he get the rub of the green by managing to hop skip and jump the odd bunker or two in the final round, that Dustin Johnson made it easier for him by hitting his second shot out of bounds at 14 in that final round, but Clarke escaped the worst of the weather, especially on Saturday.

Rory McIlroy, who placed T25, reflected last week on that Open Saturday when he said:

“I felt like I battled really well in bad weather that Saturday morning, I was two over through 13. I had battled my nuts off then all of a sudden the weather started to turn, it got better just as the leaders were heading out. I took my rain jacket off on the 14th tee, hit it out of bounds, made a double bogey and ended up shooting four over. It brightened up as the day went on and the leaders separated themselves from everyone else.
“I felt like I got the bad end of the draw in 2011 but I got the really good end of the draw in 2014 when I won. It certainly is the golf tournament most affected by weather, but play enough and you’ll have good draws and bad draws.

How bad was the weather that day? Put it this way, a guy called Noah was herding animals two by two into an ark he had built on nearby Prince’s Golf Club.

“Brutal” was 1999 champion Paul Lawrie’s verdict. This from a man weaned on links golf. He returned an 81 in the worst of the driving rain and gusting winds.

“Can't say too much about yesterday, except it didn't feel like July 16 out there,” 2009 champion Stewart Cink tweeted to his two million plus followers. “Smoked a low driver down eighth fairway 208 yards.”

Links weather can sometimes be a great leveller. On that occasion it proved a great separator. The morning side of the draw got reamed on Saturday. Lawrie’s round was one of four scores in the 80s that day. Many shot numbers in the high 70s. Only three players broke 70 – Clarke, Johnson and Rickie Fowler.

ESPN’s Gene Wojciechowski summed up the day perfectly when he wrote:

“By the end of the round, Bo Van Pelt looked like he had spent his Saturday stuck inside a dishwasher during the rinse cycle.”

Fortunately for Clarke, playing companion Lucas Glover, Johnson and Phil Mickelson, the taps and wind machine were turned down either before or early in their rounds. Mickelson said:

“It was a fun day. It was certainly challenging with the rain. We got lucky. I think the guys who played late got really lucky, myself included."

Mickelson tied for second with Johnson. Glover eventually finished T12. Clarke, of course, finally got his hands on a major trophy. Would he have done so if the capriciousness of links weather hadn’t been so unkind to McIlroy and others?

We’ll never know.

According to the Met Office's long range forecast, the weather looks good for Thursday–Sunday in Sandwich. Hopefully it stays that way.

Royal St George’s club history is entitled “A Course for Heroes.” Fingers crossed the winner of the 149th running of the Open Championship lifts the old claret jug because of heroic golf, not because of Mother Nature.

#JustSaying: “Everything was wet. I had eight towels in my bag.” Ryan Moore, who shot a third round 76

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