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Battling the Birkdale storm

Rob Hodgetts | 12:07 UK time, Thursday, 17 July 2008

"Never mind an asterisk to denote Tiger Woods is missing. If this weather carries on the winner should have a little mark next to his name to show he battled through the storm."

That's what I'm thinking as the rain trickles off my nose and my trousers flap manically in the gale.

I'm preparing to follow Tom Watson, the old-stager and five-time Open champion, Justin Rose, many people's idea of the next British major winner and Aussie tyro Aaron Baddeley for a few holes of their first rounds on Thursday.

The weather is awful and for a brief second - milliseconds in fact - I'm glad I'm not a pro golfer.

Rose, sporting huge black mittens, a woolly hat over his cap as seems to be the trend these days and a stern demeanour, receives a big cheer when he is introduced to the crowd.

Watson, a perennial favourite and winner at Birkdale in 1983, matches him for noise. They love the American in these parts. Baddeley gets no more than polite applause. He's not the story today.

They want to see if Rose can better his fourth-place "fairytale" (his words) as a 17-year-old amateur at Birkdale in 1998, and get maybe a final glimpse of the golfing royalty that is Watson.

Rose looks nervous, taking a couple of truncated practice swings, pausing as he goes back, and then fidgets before unleashing an iron into the grey yonder.

Watson walks up and wastes no time bashing a hybrid up the middle. Baddeley finds the right rough. Watson and Rose chat under buffeting umbrellas as they wait for the group ahead. The 58-year-old American then gives the two young bucks with him a little reminder of his calibre with an opening birdie to a brace of pars.

Walking off the second tee, Rose casts a glance in the direction of our little posse of media types. He knows why we are following him and looks a little anxious of the pressure that imposes.

He drives his brolly forward and leans into the gale to make progress up the fairway. "Ah, no, cut," he implores his second shot but the ball drifts left and finds the bunker. Baddeley is also wayward, while Watson lays up and chips on.

At the green Watson waits impassively, like a patient father, as his partners try to extricate themselves from trouble.

"He looks like a man who has seen and done it all," says someone in the gallery. And he's spot on.

Watson's swing may look a bit like a relic from a bygone era but he still has a presence.

Rose lips out for bogey, Watson drops a shot and Baddeley scrambles par and they move on. The weather is bleak.

On the 3rd green, the rain is now making a din on the assembled brollies and the wind is freshening further. Rose is seen in discussion with a rules official. It seems his ball moved as he was marking it, but all is OK. He backs off one putt during a gust and smiles wryly to himself. Readdressing the ball, he doesn't touch the ground with his putter to avoid any rules infringement should it move again and makes the putt. They all finish off and it's taken an hour to play three holes.

Approaching the 4th green, a voice rings out rather loudly from one of the guys manning the scorers. "This is crap. Absolutely crap." (He actually uses another word, this is the Beeb after all). He means the conditions, of course, and he's not wrong.

My hands are shrivelled, as if they have just manually washed up Christmas dinner for 12. The notebook's had it and I'm willing myself to remember everything I see. As for my supposedly top-brand waterproof jacket - well, it ain't.

Watson still has the honour at the 5th and places his drive well. Rose drags one low and left, for a split second looking like it might hit the gallery lining the fairway.

His second is laser-guided, though, and finds the green. Back under the sanctity of the umbrella, Rose and his caddie exchange a grin. He looks relieved to have got away with the drive but seems tense.

Watson strolls down the fairway with the air of a man who has achieved in his life, and perhaps aware that he is party to a younger man trying to live up to his potential.

I wonder to myself what he's really thinking. What am I doing here, in this weather at my age, perhaps?

After five holes Rose and Baddeley are one over, Watson's level. But the previous drive was no one-off for Rose. Stripping off his rain jacket during a brief lull in the maelstrom, he virtually snap-hooks one down the 6th. Perched halfway up a steep bank, in thick rough, he hacks out into the middle but then sends his third shot miles left of the green.

As if the weather isn't making it enough of a battle, he's having to fight himself.

"Well, Justin, you're just going to have to weather this storm without me, I'm afraid," I think to myself, and turn soggily for home.

Rose claimed the reception he got from the crowd 10 years ago made him feel like Jack Nicklaus. It's early days yet, of course, but for another fairytale, he could do worse than look to another legend of the game for inspiration. The man in the middle of the fairway. Watson.


  • Comment number 1.

    It is nice to know Watson is so well respected, and his mien is a lesson for all - no arm pumping for him.

  • Comment number 2.

    I was recording the sound on the second tee today all day, horrendous weather! every one except angel cabrerra and ian poulter were happy throughout! poulter was bemoaning the fact that there was a spotter in the middle of the fairway, the fact that he hit it 10 or 20 yards right of the fairwar and struggled to find his ball didnt help his case! and we all had a good laugh at him! keep up the good blog!


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