Saturday, July 21, 2012

Open Champ- Part 5

On Friday, 43,900 spectators slogged around a soggy Royal Lytham. Overnight rains left many cross walks and spectator areas looking like a well-travelled cattle lot in the Midwest. Sloppy, smelly and slick made walking a nasty process at times.
Overnight rains left some bunkers still under water late in the day. Several players were forced to hit shots out of water in the bunkers because there was no casual water relief and they wanted to avoid penalty shots if they played the shot outside the bunker. But, it takes a lot to dampen the spirits of Open fans. Beer gardens were open early and by 9 a.m. many were well underway consuming libations.
Steve Stricker teed off at 9:53 a.m. and I joined his group for the entire round. His playing partners were again Anders Hansen of Denmark and Toru Taniguchi from Japan. The Stricker group had the misfortune of playing behind Luke Donald, Phil Mickelson and Geoff Ogilvy. The throng following Donald and Mickelson was massive. To make matters worse, Rory McIlroy was a couple of groups ahead.
So, many of the 43,900 were in our area of the course all day Friday until the afternoon wave teed off with its marquee group of Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose. Keep in mind that Lytham’s 18 holes are housed on about 200 acres, so forty plus thousand people in a tight area like this is the biggest can of sardines that I will ever be a part of.
Stricker hit 16 greens in regulation on Thursday. He had a pretty stress free 67. His iron play was impeccable and the only kink in his armor was a few errant tee shots. Friday was a different story. His driving was razor sharp, but the same guy who holed a wedge on #13 in round one, missed several greens with short irons and it was clear from the first hole that the greatest of golf’s grinders was going to be grinding hard in round two.
At the end of the day, Stricker had carded a one over par 71 and was -2 for the tournament. He still remained in the top ten although he was eight shots off the lead set by Brandt Snedeker who set a 36-hole Open scoring record. That’s in 141 years of Opens. He had 10 birdies and 26 pars after two rounds- the only player in the 156 man field with no bogeys.
Stricker’s day began at 6:00 a.m. when he woke up. He arrived at Lytham around 7 a.m. and ate a hearty breakfast. The Open Championship is known for weather and Stricker’s biggest fear was that he would get the raw end of the weather stick because rain was forecast for Friday morning. The afternoon wave, which Stricker was part of in round one, had a little bit tougher weather on Thursday.
In my opinion, the ideal tee times in an Open Championship are Thursday morning and Friday afternoon. Players are geared up for the start of the championship, so you might as well go early on Thursday. Friday afternoon gives players a chance to sleep in. If you are playing well, you get afternoon times on Saturday and Sunday. That’s my preference, some might disagree.
After Stricker finished his round, he grabbed something to eat at the player’s dining area around 3 p.m. Then it was back to the range for 30 minutes to work out a few swing glitches. Before he left the course to go back to the hotel, Steve spent some time on the putting green.
Once back at the hotel, it was a combination of light napping and Open viewing on television. Many players will tell you they don’t watch golf on TV- don’t believe it. They do. Stricker was watching when Tom Watson canned a long putt on the 18th hole to make the cut in this year’s Open. This is an amazing feat for Watson, the oldest player in this year’s field and the only 5-time Open Champion at Lytham.
Then it was off to dinner for Stricker and his buddy, Don Edwards. Steve being a creature of habit, once again ate at the IMG house Friday night. He is breaking it up Saturday morning by eating in the hotel restaurant. Daring move by the guy that never changes deer stands on his farm in Wisconsin.
I did learn one interesting thing today. There is a player in the field named Eliot Saltman. He is from Scotland and he is large in stature in more ways than one. Saltman is currently serving a six month suspension from the European Tour for cheating. Even so, the R&A has allowed him to compete in the Open Championship.
It seems Saltman was recently tried and convicted by a committee of his peers for cheating. He did so by improving his lie on the putting green. The European Tour staged a hearing with several witnesses testifying against Saltman, thus the suspension. It’s rather curious that he is allowed to play in the Open Championship.
The entry form in the PGA Championship states that players must be PGA members and that any player’s application for entry may be rejected at any time and that the applicant’s participation is subject to all Rules, Regulations and Provisions of the Constitution and By-Laws of the PGA of America.  Although, it does not state it, I would say that we would have the right to reject a player’s entry if he was suspended for cheating.
Between Saltman’s berth in the 2012 Open Championship and Stricker’s breakfast of pancakes in the hotel restaurant, it looks the beginning of an unpredictable weekend here at the 141st Open Championship.  

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