Swinging in the rain
Two marshals huddle under umbrellas. They're alone in the middle of the vast stand. Rain pelts down, the wind lashes in from the left. Ordinarily no-one would be out in this, not at this time. It's 7.00am - and it's filthy.
But on the range in front, Lee Westwood bangs golf balls into the leaden sky. Now and then he glances up from under a dark Bill and Ben rain hat. The only extremity exposed is his tongue, hanging out in concentration.
Caddie Billy Foster watches on from under an umbrella. Next to him captain Colin Montgomerie, one hand in pocket, another clutching his own brolly.
At the far end, Martin Kaymer hunkers under a white woolly hat and goes through his own routine. Americans Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson stand between the Europeans, clad in blue tracksuit-style waterproofs with their names on the back. They, too, grimly limber up, trying not to drown.
American Stewart Cink tees off in testing conditions on the first tee on Friday
US assistant captain Tom Lehman, sporting enormous wintry mittens, peers through the rain. An assortment of other tracksuited Americans huddle together for warmth. All have brollies.
I try to cradle my own umbrella and scribble at the same time. It's not easy, my notepad is already wet.
Mickelson packs up and moves to the chipping green. Westwood follows. Tiger Woods steps out of a golf buggy, a blank look on his face. Both hands thrust in chest pockets. He's finally found some waterproofs with "Woods" on the back.
Rory McIlroy takes over Westwood's spot on the range. White baseball cap for him. Caddie Ken Comboy is in shorts. He's from the North West. Monty's assistant Darren Clarke doesn't seem to mind it either. He's from Northern Ireland. He gives McIlroy a lengthy, hearty handshake. Chewing gum and grinning, he guns his buggy and screams off through a puddle.
Ross Fisher is driven in on another cart, holding his umbrella out in front like a battering ram against the elements.
The notepad is now soaked. "At least you get paid for this," mutters a bedraggled man walking past. Mickelson finishes practice in the bunker and hops into a buggy. Caddie Bones gets in the back. Their getaway is foiled by the one-way system on the suspension bridge back over the river to the course. Mickelson waits in the cart, chatting to some ladies on the back of the one in front. Then he's off, followed by Johnson.
The first European buggies appear on the bridge. General Monty is in front. He hares past. Huge grin. He winks at me. I salute him. Not really, but it does cross my mind.
Kaymer's buggy is next. The German is smiling, too. Westwood, impassive, brings up the rear.
Roars reverberate from the packed grandstand surrounding the first tee. Two thousand in here, apparently. I add another one as I walk in to strains of "Two Molinaris, there's only two Molinaris" directed at the Italian brothers stood with the other Europeans not playing this morning Peter Hanson and Miguel Angel Jimenez.
Up ahead, the first fairway is lined by spectators on both sides. Stands at the green are packed, too. But the tops of the distant hills are obscured by cloud.
The rain slackens briefly. Spirits are high. Chants of "Ole, ole, ole" ring out. Then stamping feet. The mob spots starter Ivor Robson. The song goes up: "Ivor, Ivor, give us a wave, Ivor give us a wave". Ivor doesn't oblige. I'm stood high at the back of the grandstand behind the tee. Can't get the brolly up because we're too packed in. Hood will have to do. Hundreds of officials, players, team staff and hangers-on mill about on the tee. Some Americans pipe up with US...but before they can get to "A" they are drowned out by "Europe, Europe."
Montgomerie enters the arena. Chants of "Monty, Monty" and "Co-lin Mont-gom-erie, Co-lin Mont-gom-erie". The skipper beams. Then a thunderous roar. It's Westwood and Kaymer. Not making the roar themselves, obviously. "One Lee Westwood, there's only one Lee Westwood," the crowd sings. Feeling they should do the same for Kaymer, the song goes up. It's not quite as convincing, as if they're not quite not sure how many Martin Kaymer's there are. The players punch the air and wave.
Mickelson and Johnson appear. Polite applause. "Ssshhhhh" goes around the stand as the official photographer snaps the first group. Handshakes among the players and Robson invites Johnson to hit the first shot. More "Ssshhhhes". The American leaks it right and the crowd sense some sport. "Fore right" they cry as one and point in the same direction. Mickelson tees off wearing a black glove on each hand. Westwood, after a long pause over the ball, pulls the trigger. Kaymer hits, Monty pats them on the back and they strap on their splatchers to wade up the first fairway. Notebook pages now sticking together.
Tiger Woods (right) and caddie Steve Williams take some welcome shelter as the American third pairing await to tee off on the first hole
A blonde US Wag saunters in. Wolf whistles punctuate the lull. Then more Wags, in black boots, brown jodhpurs, black coats. More whistles. Jimenez takes a stroll across the tee to greet Robson. "We're all off to sunny Spain," sings one side of the stand. "Viva, Espana," answers the other.
A "Rory McIlroy" song rings out, then chants of "Gmac" for McDowell. For a nation noted for its singing the repertoire of songs isn't quite up to Valhalla. Then it was "You've got Big Macs, we've got Gmac." Maybe the songsheet pages are stuck together, too. Even Comboy has put trousers on now.
The Americans both drive up the left, McDowell down the middle, McIlroy, swinging quickly, blocks it right. Murmurs ripple through the crowd.
The rain is heavier still. Brollies go up in unison. They look like giant multi-coloured fish scales. Now I can't see so I stand on the seat. It's swaying a bit up here.
Woods tries to sneak in unobserved. A huge roar of "Europe, Europe" greets him. US skipper Corey Pavin grins wryly and cocks his head to the gallery. Ian Poulter and Ross Fisher stride up to a maelstrom of noise, their umbrellas pumping up and down in acknowledgement.
Woods defies the elements by stripping off his waterproof top. Poulter, like a little brother trying to keep up, follows suit. The anonymous world number four Steve Stricker is here too, by the way, and he drags his tee shot left. Pantomime hisses as Woods is introduced. Despite an odd new manifestation on his practice swing he unleashes a good one. He's still got it. Poults is away, Fisher slightly hooks and they scuttle off.
Haven't heard any roars from up the course yet. Maybe they're being drowned out by the rain drumming on my brolly. Water from said umbrella is dripping down onto a lady marshal. "These jackets aren't waterproof," she laments. "Mind you, I'm not sure anything is in this."
A murmur spreads through the crowd, followed by "yessss". Those listening to radios spread the news that Westwood and Kaymer have gone one up.
The lanky Bubba Watson and the mountainous Jeff Overton walk in. Barely a ripple. Padraig Harrington and Luke Donald enter to huge cheers and the long, low call of "Luuuuuuuuuke" that sounds like booing but isn't.
The US Wags wake up and go for a team "USA, USA" but are quickly drowned out. The "You're not singing any more" song just rubs salt in the wound. One brave Wag in Stars and Stripes wellies does a little dance with her brolly and we all laugh.
Harrington takes a practice swing and then another and another. The crowd latch on to this. Each subsequent one is accompanied by a building "ooooh-aaaaaah" like a goalkeeper running up to take a goal kick. Paddy laughs and teases them, stopping on the backswing.
Men up ahead squeegee water off the fairway. The first strains of "Singing In The Rain" burst out. Robson interrupts to introduce the players. Shame. That was a good one.
Overton pumps one up there first, then Watson with his pink-shafted driver lighting up the gloom. Left-handed, he takes an open stance and lashes at it with his light sabre. Donald matches him, Harrington drags his left.
They splosh off the tee and the 2010 Ryder Cup is go. Just as well - the notepad is mush. If I've forgotten anything, that's why.