Despite Tiger Woods? regal procession around Hoylake?s rusty fairways, Bill Elliott laments the lack of drama as he reviews the 136th Open Championship
Not for the first time, Tiger Woods started his Open Championship acceptance speech with exactly the right words.
Standing in the early evening light of a Wirral Sunday, the old Claret Jug gleaming for the third time in his grasp, a captive audience of fans seated in the grandstands filling three
sides of the last hole at Royal Liverpool, he slipped loose a small grin and then said: ?Where do I begin??
Where indeed? Tiger went on to make a gracious speech in which he acknowledged the strength of the attempted challenge from his compatriot Chris DiMarco, lingered touchingly on the memory of his father and then moved on to thank everyone who needed thanking.
Woods knows what he is doing. Which is more than can be said about almost everyone else at this Open. Nothing in sport is certain. This is the beauty of the thing whether it be football or rugby, cricket, tennis or golf. One thing, however, is for sure. If Tiger Woods leads going into the last round of a Major, then he wins.
Now while this is a glowing testimony to an extraordinary talent, it is also a blurring condemnation of everyone else. What, for goodness sake, is the matter with them?
Show them Tiger Woods on the top of a leaderboard on a Sunday morning and they all fold like so many cardboard soldiers caught in a hurricane.
Tiger does not hang his opponents out to dry but then, to be fair, he does not need to because they do the job for him. He, and his advisers, must giggle all the way to the bank. Probably, by now, they own the bank anyway.
The only outstanding exception to this blanket criticism of a bunch of wusses on the Wirral Peninsula is DiMarco. For the last several months DiMarco has been in a slump so serious it seemed it might verge on the terminal. Yet at this Open the feisty New Yorker found a recovery room in the unlikely setting of a links course burnt brown by a scorching sun.
?Show them Tiger on top of a leaderboard on Sunday and they fold like cardboard soldiers?
For DiMarco, Hoylake must have resembled the moon. He admitted he had never seen anything like it but, for him, this was a moon that encouraged sanity and a swiftly reassuring retreat from the idiocy of his recent play.
While Tiger was playing for the memory of his dad, DiMarco was still raw from the loss of his mum. Bereavement does funny things. Rodriguez wrote the most compelling guitar concerto ever because his wife was lying in a hospital dying; Van Gogh?s genius was rooted in despair; Shakespeare never wrote better than through tears.
Whatever else death does, it certainly concentrates the mind. In DiMarco?s
case his sense of loss freed him to play proper golf again because, without doubt, it put this daft game into a proper perspective. Want to hole a tricky six-foot putt? Then don?t bother overmuch about whether you do or not.
DiMarco?s effort on the last day was commendable. ?He played brilliantly,? said Woods. This is true but it means also that Tiger himself played more than brilliantly. Until Sunday, Woods had been good enough to lead but he had been nowhere near as good as he can be. This, scarily, is how good he is.
On Sunday, however, we saw the absolute best of this man. Cocooned in his own mind, so remote even those close to him must have felt they were hugely detached from their leader, Woods was a man on a mission over this final round. It always is the man who wants it most who gets it first and this was Woods.
The harsh fact is that if everyone plays as well as they possibly can and if they then all enjoy an equal amount of vaguely good fortune, then Tiger will win. This is a very bad thought to take out onto an Open course with you for a final round. Unless you are Woods, in which case it is the best thought of all.
Oh, they tried but in their trying they exposed the truth: compared to Woods they are also-rans.
So this last round began to peter out quickly. The BBC commentators did their job as best they could, encouraging us to believe there was drama left when they knew, and we knew, that after the first half-dozen holes this Open was over. Hoylake offered a potentially compelling theatre after a 39-year absence from the R&A?s Championship rota but great theatres require great drama and this most essential of ingredients was missing at the end.
This, of course, is not the champion?s fault. He can only do what he does. The fact the rest, on this week anyway, were not fit to walk the same fairways is nothing to do with him.
So in the end we were left with an exhibition. There was much to admire.
Tiger now really is the complete golfer. Every shot is within his compass. He can hit the ball high or low, left or right, soft or hard. He remains what he always has been to me ? the best putter I have ever seen.
?So in the end we were left with an exhibition. Tiger now really is the complete golfer?
Most important of all, this course in this hard-running condition allowed him to declare his Achilles heel, otherwise known as his driver, obsolete. All week he used the big stick just once. The one doubt was erased.
Meanwhile his distance control on Sunday was all but flawless. While the others struggled, particularly Ernie Els whose wedge play dismayed those of us who support the big man and whose early golf at Hoylake had been his best for a year, Woods was sublimely accurate.
But then, like the others on the final day, Ernie was forced to chase, to take risks. He knew, we all knew, that whatever else happened, Woods was not going to come back to a field that was scattered behind him in disarray.
Tiger?s initial game plan had been what it has been ever since he turned pro. This is to say that in Majors he tears out there, tries to shoot low and hopes to get his name on to the top of the leaderboard because then he knows that the collective whimper of despair will echo everywhere.
Once again this was how it worked out and though the likes of Els, Sergio Garcia, Jim Furyk and Angel Cabrera tried to cling on, it all worked out exactly as he had planned as he flew across the Atlantic in one of his big boy?s toys.
Els hopefully will make it back to where he used to be but he is not quite there yet, while Garcia wore too much yellow and it was all too tight, a young man trying too hard to be too cool which is the least cool thing any young man may try to do.
By the end Garcia sadly endorsed what many of us already knew ? that he is the worst last-round golfer from the current crop of world-class players.
Furyk never managed to ignite his game on Sunday, a man suddenly made timid by the prize on offer and the guy playing a couple of groups behind him. Cabrera continued to tease his supporters by demonstrating the sort of wobbly thinking and casually daft play that too often unravels his natural talent.
And then there were the Brits. Or rather there they weren?t. I cannot even be bothered reprimanding them.
Top marks though to English duo Anthony Wall, who performed above his station (finishing T11), and Robert Rock (T16), a golfer who impressed me not
just with his game but by the fact he did it all without the help of a baseball cap.
This, especially given that he would have been offered a small fortune to wear one of the damn things on Saturday and Sunday, is a commendable effort and for this reason alone I wish Rock all the very best for the future.
I noticed that Wall, by the way, was still practising outside the tent where the other golf writers and I sat down for our annual dinner late-ish on Tuesday evening. Sometimes a big effort really does pay off. It?s also worth noting that only one golfer from the entire Celtic Nations ? Ulster?s Graeme McDowell ? even played over the weekend.
Thank goodness also that DiMarco had the manners to take off the advertising hoarding he was wearing on his head before emerging to accept second prize. Ping might make good clubs but someone in their commercial department needs to spend a weekend studying the meaning of the word subtlety.
Woods, of course, always takes off his cap before attending a prize ceremony.
It is something his father taught him along with all the other things Earl Woods passed on during their 30 years together. Earl was a good man, as accessible as his son is remote, as open as Tiger is closed. Together, however, they really have created something wonderful as far as golf is concerned.
The tears the son wept at the end offered a rare and moving insight into the human being within the carefully crafted image of the dominant sportsman. And, of course, he was not the only one who cried.
Prominent among this group was Sam Torrance, who cracked up as he tried to answer a query from Peter Alliss back in the television booth, but then Sam has been under a restraining order in a vain attempt to stop him watching Bambi more than 100 times a year.
Yes, hard men do cry. Where should Tiger Woods begin? This remains a question for him. For the rest of the pygmies, the only relevant question is when the heck will he end? The obvious answer will bring them no comfort. Real brilliance is like that.