DAY SEVEN (The Denouement)

WELL, at least Jean Van de Velde is off the hook. It’s hard to believe isn’t it? Just when we think we’ve seen everything we realise we don’t even know the half of it. Padraig, Padraig, Padraig. Twice in the water at the last. TWICE. Just a par was needed but that’s never easy.

Not in an Open and especially not in a Carnoustie Open. Standing with the punters watching

the big screen in the Tented Village was at first like being at a carnival but then it was like attending someone’s wake. Good, sport, innit? But at least a European won so we can all stop conducting those inquests every few months into what’s gone wrong with our blokes compared to theirs. I was torn between pleasure for Garcia who did his best to live up to his

reputation in my house as the worst last round world class golfer in recent

history but finally found that there was someone out there more nervous than himself. Whatever you feel, however, whoever you were rooting for, this ended up one of the great Opens. So terrific I had to go and buy an ice-cream- pistachio – to steady my own nerves.

This might not seem much of a celebration but believe me Carnoustie at this supercool Open had very few, and very slim, windows of opportunity for us ice-cream aficionados.

Why was I nervous? Well, under the influence of laughing water I had offered odds of 1,000 to one against Seve retiring and Sergio winning this week. I had indeed been stitched up like an Arbroath Smokie but I’d offered the bet, it had been accepted and my pal has to live with his conscience at seeking it in the first place. In the end the good guy won. Me not him?

And, of course, Padraig. Not that I would have minded Garcia plundering this one even if it did cost me a few quid. The Spaniard always brings fun

and sensational golf wherever he plays. He should have won this Open but somehow I always feared he wouldn’t. Using a belly putter at 27 years of age is not a good sign. What is a good sign is that it was two of Europe’s finest who contested this great championship at the last. It could have been another Argentinian but Andres Romero betrayed his own naivety over the closing couple of holes. It has been a week that has tried its best to

be dull. And wet. The weather contributed little to the successof this championship but the great links offered everything by way of compensation.

Golf sometimes can be rather tiresome but Carnoustie never lets us down. It has been a privilege to have been here as this dramatic story unfolded.

Oh, and for those who still have an interest… the pies on Saturday evening were, as expected, terrific. Good night.

DAY SIX

(QUICK! Let the games begin)

AND so we get to the nitty-gritty, the nub, the core or, as it is otherwise known, the Third Day. The cut’s been made, Phil is back home in California, Monty’s finding another cat to kick and Tiger is still searching for his C game. Terrific isn’t it? Twenty-four hours ago we were warned to expect heavy rain but in the event all we got was a bit of heavy drizzle although the temperature still hovered around the Gulag mark. For me, the day began

well. Knowing that work today (well, I call it work whatever you lot think) would not finish until somewhere around 10 o’clock I took the precaution of slipping along to the pleasant bakery a few yards from the apartment.

What I wanted was a pie. What I ended up with was three pies. First of all the nice lady who bakes them suggested a mince and potato jobbie that comes complete with a top layer of baked beans. I mean how impressive is that.

Then she recommended the cheese and onion and so I bought that but the deal was only completed when she unveiled her house speciality, a CHICKEN CURRY PIE. How could I resisit it. And, of course, I completed the order by purchasing the rarely seen but always desirable Mars Bar Brulee. I can’t wait to get stuck in. The thought of these subtle delicacies awaiting my arrival back home kept me going through a day that suddenly took flight as

a posse of players tore into Carnoustie. First to fill his boots was Justin Rose who moved himself from nowhere to the leaderboard thanks to a 67.

Afterwards he told us that he first imagined winning an Open when he was just seven years old. So I asked if he could recall the winning score at the time. He could, it was five under par. Funny that because I reckon that this possibly, just possibly, may yet hit the mark if one bears in mind that Sergio Garcia rather sadly remains the worst wlorld class last round

golfer in the history. We’ll see.Meanwhile, what a pleasure it has been to see teenage sensation Rory McIlroy in action this week. The wee Northern Irish golfer comes into this Open as an amateur boasting the best curriculum vitae since Tiger turned pro a decade and a bit ago. Rory turns pro himself straight after the Walker Cup matches at Royal County Down in seven weeks time. He will do so to a roll of drums, a big toot on Chubby

Chandler’s trumpet – he is joining the big man’s ISM management company – and will immediately see a fairly hefty rise to his pocket money. At this stage he seems a nice, baby-faced lad who is obsessed with the game.

Not every wonderkid goes on to make it big of course but McIlroy really does

seem to have all the pluses, including a plus-6 handicap. At least he will get six shots back the moment he turns pro. Funny that don’t you think?

The other interesting thing is that he comes from a nice, warm and Catholic family who live in Holywood (pronounced Hollywood) in Belfast. This suggest that although the future is indeed bright it almost certainly isn’t orange after all…

DAY FIVE

(Is there any remaining sign of human life here skipper?)

I CAN’T tell you how cold it was here this morning. Actually I can…it was

absobloodylutely freezing. Just before I set off for what is scheduled to

be a three week sojourn in bonny Scotland (Bonny? Carnoustie? Is this

concept possible?) my wife persuaded me to throw my emergency winter coat into the boot of the car. What a good isea this has turned out to be. Only problem is that while the mornings are bitterly cold, the late afternoons end to turn out warm, sunny and encouraging. Nothing in life is simple it seems.

Still, it’s turning out at this point to be a cracking Open. Sergio has rediscovered what passes as a decent putting stroke while Tiger struggling to produce even his G Game, never mind the A and B versions he always tells us about. Long way to go of course, especially on this course but all I will say is this…Garcia may be the best tee to green player around at present but he is, without argument, the lousiest last round world class player. Maybe he’ll get it right this time but, you know what, I’m not holding my breath.

Neither, of course, is Phil Mickelson. Still capable of exquisite play, Phil has struggled mightily on these links. He is, of course, not the first. The good news about him, however, is that various reports have reached me about Mickelson, Jim Furyk, Justin Leonard and a few others enjoying themselves in various pubs and restaurants in the Carnoustie area. Nothing outrageous of course, but this is still reassuring news for those of us who worry about the Americans ever again truly gelling as a Ryder Cup team. Maybe next year we’ll get a proper match again.

And would anyone like to offer me odds on young Rory McIlroy playing in the 2008 Ryder Cup matches. The teenage Ulsterboy is a quite phemonenal talent, set to play in the Walker Cup in September and then to turn pro, joining the Chubby Chandler where one of his early heroes, Darren Clarke, is preparing to ‘babysit’ even as we speak. If anyone can bring on the youngster as a pro then it is Darren. Veteran caddie Dave Musgrove is very impressed with what he has seen so far. “He looks the real deal but we all need to give him some space and time, ” said the man who has caddied for Seve, Sandy, Lee Jenzen and guided them to two Opens, one Masters and a US Open title. This is Dave’s 46th consecutive Open and, at 64, it may be his last as a bag carrier. “I’ve got an irregular heartbeat. Annoyingly, this is quite a common complaint but I do get a bit breathless now and then and those bags aren’t getting any lighter.” If this is his final Open then we should all pause for a moment and salute a gracious man whose professionalism helped take the odd-job role of the caddy on to a new and higher plane.

DAY FOUR (Well, actually, Day One because, thank goodness, the golf has actually started)

THE DAY began badly with dreary rain sweating its way down to Carnoustie and a temperature so low even the few Geordies I spotted were wearing shirts. Shortly after nine o’clock the Championship officially got started when Tiger Woods made his way to the first tee wearing waterproofs, handmittens and, naturally, his GAME FACE (think Robocop meets Godzilla).

I was there waiting for him. Strangely, he didn’t pop over to say hello. I put this down to his intense focus rather than any intentional slight on his part although the fact he has ignored me now for a decade is, I must admit, beginning to irritate. Tiger scowled at the weather and someone’s god took notice for the rain stopped about 15 minutes later.

So we are off and running, Tiger is in the hunt, Justin Rose should have been, Tony Jacklin was briefly one under par, Paul McGinley is playing proper golf again and Michael Campbell, too, appears to have woken from the long kip he has enjoyed since winning the US Open a couple of years ago. The wake-up call appears to have come from European Tour media man Scott Crockett. Or rather Scott’s mobile. It was while the two men were enjoying a beer in Dubai earlier this year that Campbell noticed Crockett squinting at some text on his phone and muttering “Come on the Vale”. Intrigued, Campbell asked who what the Vale was/were. Crockett explained they were his football team, Deveronvale, a side that plays in some Highlands league but who that day were taking on Partick Thistle in what the Scots amusingly think is a real Cup comp. Campbell had to go before the end of the match but told Crockett to let him know how they got on and that he’d send through a cheque for £2,000 for the boys to have a drink.

So now the Kiwi whose greatX4 grandfather was a Scot is a fully paid-up Deveronvale supporter, Crockett texts him all the results and he intends to stand on the terraces soon. He even has a shirt, presented to him at Augusta. “I’d have preferred a green jacket but this will do nicely for now, ” he said.

Meanwhile, I bumped into Sergio Gomez, the eternally affable manager of José-Maria Olazábal who tells me that his man has pulled out of the Open not because he has a dodgy knee but because his dodgy knee is a sympton of a damaged back. Even more interestingly, Sergio is happy for the world to know that he has lost a stinking amount of weight. How much, I asked, expecting something around 1,000 kilos to be the answer. “I have lost nine inches, ” he said. Blimey, I replied, that is not only careless, it must be terribly disappointing for your more intimate pals. “No, no, ” he grinned. “Nine inches off my WAIST.” Phew, what a relief.

DAY THREE…

USUALLY the Association of Golf Writers annual dinner is a rather private and quiet affair albeit interrupted occasionally by the sound of someone in pain from too much alcohol. Not this time. While a generally enjoyable time was had by all, one of the speeches seemed to cause offence. This offence was brought about by a couple of unnecessarily slightly racist stories. Let’s cut to the chase here: these were not the dribbling outbursts of someone who is a racist but rather the ignorant outpouring of a bloke who has yet to make it into the 21st Century. However, given the media spotlight at an Open the association was obliged to issue a public apology. Pity. Not a pity that we had to apologise but that the bloke who made the speech did not have the nous to realise that what he had carefully prepared was not the sort of thing any, or at least very few, of us wish to hear.

Apart from this nonsense this annual dinner went very well indeed. Highlight of the evening was the speech by Bob Torrance who received the golf writers’ award for distinguished service to golf. In Bob’s case this was for giving us (a) Sam Torrance and (b) coaching a posse of decent players currently headed by Padraig Harrington. Padraig spoke about Bob at the dinner and the warmth of his words embraced the old Scottish coach warmly. Bob then made his own speech. Half and hour before he did this we had spoken. To say he was nervous was to underestimate the sensitivity of a man who has been, and

remains, towards the core of pro golf in the UK. “This is the biggest

honour of my life and the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, ” he confessed to me. I advised him to just be himself. And this is what he did and it was, unsurprisingly, exactly what was required. One other thing Bob told me was this… last year at the Ryder Cup he was interviewed by Peter Jacobsen for American television. The man from Largs with the somewhat gutteral accent thought it had all gone very well indeed until he saw the broadcast.

“D’you know what they did, ” he asked with indignation pouring from every available pore. “They bloody put subtitles on it. Can you believe it?” At least I think he said ‘can you believe it? The rigours of attending the AGW dinner slid over into Wednesday and were not helped by the fact that Wednesday at The Open is traditionally the day a few of us gather at the Bollinger tent for a light libation. It was, as ever, a merry scene although on the down side it was one that went on several hours beyond its sell-by date.

Highlight of the afternoon was the arrival of a bloke who sat at the next table and who was wearing a kilt and a T-shirt that boasted Scotland Rules. I leaned over to him and suggested that he deserved commendation for such obvious patriotism. “Oh, I’m not Scottish, ” he said. “I’m Welsh, but I have been staying with a pal and my luggage is still in Cardiff Airpprt somewhere and this was the only spare, clean shirt he had for me.”

TUESDAY (16.20 in the Carnoustie media centre)

GLORY be, the sun has got his hat on again. To celebrate I made the journey from the rented flat to the cours in record time…five minutes and 11 seconds. By foot. This place is the best result I’ve had since the 1979 Open at Lytham when we stayed in a house 80 yards from the course entrance. Better still, our landlord Joe insisted on joining in our poker games each evening. Joe was a nice man but a less than accomplished card player.

By the end of the week we had each made back our rent plus a slice on top.

Happy days. There is no-one in the present flat to play cards with and the other disappointment is that the carpet shop upon which we sit has abandoned the sale it had on when I first inspected the place back in May. At that time the banner announcing this sale event was compelling in its simplicity. ‘Shagalicious’ it screamed at startled passers by.When I relayed this news to my colleages back in London, two of them got very excited at the prospect of their visit.

But if the absence of the greatest sign in the history of signage is a cause for much gruntling, our spirits, and much has else, has been greatly buoyed by the appearance of a new shop opposite the flat. This is called Booze Express and does what it says on the tin, or in this case the window.

Meanwhile, out on the course players were trying to get really serious. This is quite hard on the practice days when it is easier for a golfer to wonder what he might have for supper tonight. Tiger comes and goes, a shadowy figure identifiable most readily by the posse of muscle he has surrounding him. This is along the lines of ‘My muscle is bigger than your muscle’ and is just as tiresome as it sounds.

Much more enjoyable than trying to find Tiger on his own – the bathroom perhaps but, no, maybe not even then – was the Golf Foundation dinner in Dundee I attended last night. Gary Player was honoured as the special guest and entertained the room with a 40 minute account of his life and times. If you hadn’t heard it before it was terrific and even if you had then it was still remarkably enjoyable. Someone then asked him what he thought of Seve’s retirement earlier in the day and Gary’s reply is worth recording here. “In my experience there have been three people who have lived for golf, I mean really lived for the game. Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Seve Ballesteros. In his prime he was a sight to behold and it is sad that he has had to call it a day at such a relatively young age.”

Many of the great and the good were in attendance. I went up in the lift with Colin Montgomerie but, as it turned out, he was on his way to his room rather than the dinner. I got out first and as I exited I wished him good luck this week. I can’t be sure but I do believe that from behind me I heard a grunt. It’s a positive sign that the great man is regaining balance after a disappointing Scottish Open last week. To be honest I enjoyed a few sherberts at the Golf Foundation do but it was only a practice swing for tonight’s main event, the Association of Golf Writers annual do in the R&A Club tent on the course. The even greater and gooder will be there tonight, a fine bunch of men and women bound together not so much by a love of the game but by an insatiable thirst. Who falls over, who hits whom and what the speeches were like I’ll relay to you tomorrow. If I wake up in time that is…

MONDAY (Day One(ish) of the 136th Open Championship)

BARRY Took once said how brilliant it was to wake up in the morning with the sun rising, a lark twittering away and a blue sky stretching towards the horizon. “How wonderful it is on those occasions, ” he added. “To then throw open the bedroom window and climb in.” Well, there was no blue sky here in Carnoustie – the closest Scotland gets to a gulag. Instead it was hissing down, visibility was reduced to a half wedge and the immediate inclination upon rising out of one’s bed was to climb back in immediately.

I resisted the temptation. Instead I pulled on a full set of waterproofs and made the arduous 351 pace walk from my rented apartment to the course and the Media Centre. Even this short stroll, however, encouraged at least a small fear of drowning as the water teemed out of a leaden sky. No wonder some Scots only smile on New Year’s Eve and even the they only do it if someone else falls over and hurts themselves. After the usual minor irritation of accreditation – “would you like an annual or a tie?” asked the nice young woman dealing with me at the front desk. That depends, I replied…an annual what? Turns out she was offering me a book. I chose the tie although I don’t know why as I rarely wear the things. Still, it’s easier to read I suppose.

All the usual suspects were gathering in the press tent. Some of us have been coming here since the boy David was a contender and it is good to meet old friends. One of these, unexpectedly, turned out to be Seve Ballesteros. I was standing out side the tent when he walked up and tipped the rather attractive tweed hat I was wearing at the time. “Nice hat, amigo,” said my old pal. “You look like an English gentleman but I don’t think you are.” How right he is, apart from anything else I’m Irish.

Seve, of course, is not playing at this Open but he had requested a press conference which everyone assumed he wanted because he wished to further deny reports that he had attempted suicide recently. But no, instead he announced he had decided to retire from the game he graced so wonderfully for so long. He thanked everyone…the British public for their support, the journalists who had been with him on one of the truly great sporting journeys and anyone who has supported him in anyway since those early days 30 years ago. This, of course, is just about everyone, Seve embraces a world much wider than golf. It was touching to hear him talk about the good times again and how appeciative he is of what golf has done for him. This is as it should be but it is also relevant to add that golf should be grateful also for what he did for the crusty, old game of manners and self-discipline.

I’ve been lucky enough to have been with Seve every step of the way on this rollercoaster ride. It has been a privilege and, often, a genuine thrill. It is not just that the golf was brilliant but that Seve embraced us on his way to the stars. Unlike any other sportsman of my acquaintance he was inclusive. He often referred to us as ‘his family’ and we loved him for it. It is sad that he is now officially retired but it is, of course, sensible that he should, however reluctantly, step away. His game has been a tattered thing for a long time now, his attempt to resurrect the old glory rather pathetic to witness. We’ll miss him but the other fact is that he has been missing for some time already.

When he finished speaking we shook hands and embraced. I thanked him for all the fun and he grinned back and tipped my hat again. His eyes were too full of tears to speak. Outside the sun had burst through a dank sky that was suddenly turning rather brilliantly blue. When Seve walked away from us today he was bathed in a golden light. But then he always was…