Everything about golf is unlikely. Golf itself is very unlikely. No one individual, however mad, could have invented golf. Assuredly, golf emerged from a succession of demented minds conceiving unlikely ideas. Its evolution is about as unlikely as that of an elephant and the only thing consistent about it is the unpredictability of its playing outcomes.
Golf has for long enjoyed the habit of generating the unlikely. Its history is littered with occurrences so improbable that they defy the laws of chance. A hole-in-one, for instance, is so improbable that even the most avid golfer can pass predictably through life without even coming close, while for others, often less avid and able, such a rare event can become relatively commonplace. But when golf produced Celtic Manor (pictured), and furthermore, when it was selected as the 2008 Ryder Cup venue, golf entered the realms of pure incredulity.
Set in the beautiful valley of the river Esk, one expects to find a picturesque course embracing the landscape and enhancing it. The hype of the £12 investment that has gone into it rather raises the expectations. But what one finds is a place so remote from the Welsh countryside about it that it is about as unlikely as something that the Beagle probe has found on Mars. Quite simply this golf course is an American design concept that appears to have been flown in as a self-assembly pack. It has all of the character of a production line American resort golf course with even greater anonymity. It is a tragedy that this course has been imposed upon the surrounding countryside for both it and the investors deserve better.
It is a pity, but surely not surprising, that so few of the big names from the European Tour chose to make the journey to Newport to contest one of the biggest pots of the year. This is hardly an inspiring place and one cannot but help feeling very sorry for both Sir Terence Matthews and the Wales Tourist Board who have poured so much into the Wales Open. They certainly deserved better for their money than the show put on by a field that comprised only six players out of the world's top 100. It was certainly not the money on offer that failed to induce the big boys for, even today, £250,000 is not to be sniffed at and is a sum somewhat larger than the Benson and Hedges pot that brought them out in droves.
In this unlikely setting, the unlikely figure of Ian Poulter took the laurels. Suffering tonsillitis all the way to the bank, and after missing the cut in his last three events Poulter did not seem likely to trouble the scorers in Wales. But with Montgomerie missing the cut and scoring as erratic as the rough, it was really anybody's event and the cards simply fell Poulter's way.
In the more likely setting of Jack Nicklaus' back yard in Muirfield at Columbus in Ohio, the cards did not fall Pod Harrington's way. Much was expected of Pod at this venue but the only thing predictable about the likeable Irishman is his unpredictability. With fatherhood looming and his clear aspirations to play more in the USA, despite the lucrative appearance money he is reputed to be making, European golf is likely to be seeing less of its Order of Merit leader in the years to come. This is a pity for the Tour needs characters like Harrington as a Montgomerie antidote.
Kenny Perry took the honours at the Memorial at Muirfield. Kentucky born and bred, Perry was as an unlikely winner at the Colonial last week as he was a back-to-back winner. But, like Harrington, Perry seems to have come through with a vein of form that verges on the invincible. Can it continue through the next two weeks to the US Open is the question that will be troubling the bookies in the days ahead? Certainly, Tiger Woods' apparent loss of edge has thrown the US Open more open than it has been for some time.
Tiger is not leading the earnings league in the run up to the US Open for the first time since 1999. He has also failed to make the top-10 in three consecutive tournaments. His fellow Tour pros have abandoned the neck braces that they have for long worn for the neck strain suffered from watching their backs, craning at the scoreboards to see his score and to protect against the whiplash from the vortex created by his Sunday surges. The Tiger is no longer enjoying the psychological high ground and the bookmakers are thrown. His leaving the Memorial in joint fourth place does little to convince although it was impressive even by his own stellar standards.
The situation that has emerged with the Tiger's new-found timidity is about as unlikely as his blond hair rinse. What is not unlikely, however, is that he will emerge as the winner of the US Open in two weeks time.
|| 4 - JUNE 2003