The R&A’s unavoidable announcement that The 144th Open Championship will now finish on Monday is the latest in a series of disappointments surrounding the year’s greatest championship.
A couple of months ago this year’s Open Championship had the potential to be one of the greatest ever. Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth were shaping up to take each other in a modern-day clash of the titans. It could have been like Watson and Nicklaus’ “Duel in the Sun” back in 1977. Tom Watson was set to bid his farewell to the great event from atop the Swilcan Bridge, and there were realistic hopes that might be on Sunday rather than Friday. The great man made the cut at Hoylake and few doubted he could do it again this year. Faldo was also going to say goodbye, so too Peter Dawson. This was going to be the CEO’s grand finale, he deserved it to be a cracker.
But then things started to go wrong. Rory did his ankle in playing football and the much-anticipated battle at The Home of Golf between the world’s two best players was off. We tried to put on a brave face – “The Open will be fine without the World Number 1,” we said. “It’s far more than just one player.” But, if we’re honest with ourselves, the Northern Irishman’s withdrawal inevitably took something away from this year’s event. Even Spieth admitted it wouldn’t be quite the same without him.
Then the weather started to prove troublesome. For a start, wet conditions in the build-up meant that when the carnival rolled into town it found a very green, un-linksy Old Course. This wasn’t the hard-baked, fast-running track that we wanted to see. The Open is at its best when the players are firing to parched fairways, where there’s nothing to stop the ball until it trundles into a bunker or a gorse bush. The greens need to be hard and unreceptive so the players are required to display maximum creativity by using the banks and slopes to feed the ball to the cup. But it wasn’t to be. The course was lush and forgiving, the competitors flying the ball through the air and checking it up on the soft putting surfaces – that’s not how a links should play.
And the rain wasn’t finished there. On Thursday night and into Friday morning the heavens opened and turned The Old into a waterpark. That pushed the start times back by a few hours meaning the second day’s play would have to run over to Saturday. It wasn’t too much of a problem except that Tom Watson, who hadn’t played as well as he might have hoped which was disappointing in itself, was likely to finish in encroaching darkness. The five-time Open champion got his chance to wave goodbye from the Swilcan Bridge but, unfortunately, he had to do so in fading light, in front of empty grandstands. It was still emotional, but it wasn’t the ending it should have been.
And now, with this impressive wind blowing, the tournament will have to finish on Monday. People will be back at work, spectator numbers will be down, TV viewing figures will be down. It might make for an interesting quiz question in years to come, but for now it’s just a bit of a downer.
Golf Monthly’s Neil Tappin summed it all up to as we discussed the points to be made in this piece. “It’s just all a real shame.”