There was a time when a golf tournament at Gleneagles attracted crowds in excess of 100,000. The Kings Course has seen some remarkable events in its lengthy history of staging major tournaments; its setting in the Perthshire hills edging the Scottish Highlands itself made it worthy of a visit. Both the Kings and Queens courses made for thrilling golf, shot makers golf, and the natural terrain provided spectators with viewing unparalleled in the world.
The venue for the Diageo Championship may have been Gleneagles but all it had in common with what has gone before was the postal address in Auchterarder. The PGA Centenary Course is, in golfing terms, as remote from the Kings course as is Kentucky Fried Chicken from prime Aberdeen Angus steak. The fact that the crowds stayed away in droves is significant for the Gleneagles catchment area comprises the most loyal, but also the most discerning golf spectators to be found anywhere on the planet.
This course was designed by Jack Nicklaus' organisation and was initially called the Monarchs course. It would appear to have been derived from a standard mid-west blueprint for it has all of the distinguishing characteristics of blandness. That it is designated to hold the Ryder Cup in 2014 is depressing. It is simply a long boring plod - and that is just from green to tee! The holes are undistinguished and few remain in the mind beyond the bar and the hard luck stories.
The Diageo Championship was memorable only because of the high winds that swept across the bleak landscape and blew the field away on Thursday and Friday. Soren Kjeldsen took a two shot lead from the wind and extended it into five shots after a 67 on Saturday. Despite the best efforts of Alastair Forsyth and a rejuvenated Paul Broadhurst, he held his place with a final par round to a two shot victory on 279.
Kjeldsen was a worthy winner. It is his first tour title in over 160 starts and he joins his Danish countrymen, Bjorn, Tinning and the two Hansens as a champion in time for the Nordic Open in August when the European Tour stages its first event on a Danish course.
Colin Montgomerie showed some return to form at Gleneagles and may celebrate his 40th birthday with a smile. After the trauma of switching clubs he appears to have returned to his cavity-backed irons and we saw a glimmer of the old Monty in his approach shots in particular. Indeed, his birdies on the last two holes that elevated him into the top five was vintage stuff that bodes well. One senses, however, that the necessary ingredient of self-assurance is not yet there but the mighty strides and the contorted facial expressions as he left the 18th green for the scorers tent suggests that it is not far off. One further good game before the Open could do him a power of good.
Monty's demise from atop the leaderboards may have raised eyebrows on this side of the Atlantic but it is as nothing compared to the effects of Tiger Woods' eclipse on the US Tour. He threatened for three torrential rain soaked days in the Buick Classic at Westchester Country Club in New York but his anticipated last day charge did not materialise and he finished well down the field. Like Monty, a club change has dented his supreme confidence and, although Woods will doubtless emerge from the pack again, one suspects that he has lost the overwhelming psychological edge that he once enjoyed in the game.
Jonathan Kaye won at Westchester after a play-off with John Rollins. Kaye is a first time winner on the Tour after a four year apprenticeship during which he lost one play-off and enjoyed four top-10 finishes. Kaye won the play-off in some style with an eagle at the par five 18th hole when a birdie would have sufficed. Bridie Baird and Skip Kendel challenged but it was Sergio Garcia who should have been in the shoot-out. Garcia's return to form after his swing doctoring was impressive. Missing the 18th green and the hole by only a few yards, Garcia found himself in rough from which he required three shots and two puts for a disappointing bogey and fall from grace.
It was particularly refreshing to see representatives from the old guard playing well at both venues. At Gleneagles, Paul Broadhurst and Sandy Lyle showed what experience could do in the wind. Lyle's drive and 5-iron to within eight feet at the 543 yard 16th hole was stupendous when most were taking fairway woods of one sort or another for their second shots. Lyle still has the game to win again and his return to Royal St George's [where he won his only Open Championship] may well be the bit of inspiration required.
At Westchester, Jay Haas and Fred Funk showed what the 40-something's are still capable of by finishing in the top five. Utterly penalising rough put paid to Lyle at Gleneagles as it did to Haas and Funk at Westchester. These three old boys showed that shot making brings its dividends and on the old Westchester course Haas and Funk were duly rewarded.
In contrast to the Centenary course, Westchester at 6,700 yards is short by modern standards. Like the 12th on the Old Course, there are par four holes at Westchester that can be driven. Of course, they can also be missed and, if missed, the consequences are never good. But such a venue makes for exciting golf and certainly exciting viewing and the crowd that flocked from New York were appreciative of it. European Tour officials should please take note.
|| 24 - JUNE 2003