An Open Saturday to go down in course of history

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WHERE were you on Saturday 21 July? Where were you when Tiger Woods shot his worst round as a professional golfer, when the rumble of rain provided a suitably apocalyptic soundtrack to the occasion? Where were you a day that will pass into golfing lore, when a succession of golfers walked out into the wilds and returned to find a new golfing order had been shaped by the elements.

Woods, for so long imperious, had dropped out of sight from the leaders, the plus sign lodged next to his name adding greatly to the eeriness. Strange to think that a day of empty galleries, a saddening consequence of the dark skies, is set to pass into golfing lore as being one of the most extraordinary the game has ever witnessed.

The banks of empty seats may actually have added to the scene, emphasising the obscurity into which these men blundered, and the loneliness. The dark and sombre ocean to the north gave us further reason to regard these players tossed into storm as somehow abandoned, lost in the gathering gloom.

No-one more so than Colin Montgomerie, even if Woods’ troubles demanded the most rapt attention. He had already raced from Muirfield by midday yesterday, having been unable to repair the damage of Saturday’s hideous round of 84.

"I just can’t handle it anymore," he announced. The tempest is this man’s mind rages on, even if Muirfield was yesterday returned to its becalmed state of the first two days.

The effect of Saturdays lingered on in the air, however, like the mud which still clung to the boots. There could be no lessening of the day’s significance, nor denying its momentous tread. Players were yesterday still being asked for their thoughts on the vehement conditions, urged to define and then rank them next to the batterings they might have withstood in the past. Nick Faldo referred to it as a "brutal few hours", which contrived to rob the course of its character.

Not everyone considered the day completely ruined. Greg Norman described the conditions as being the "great equaliser everybody needed". Everybody that is except Woods.

Some players actually revelled in it all, so at ease with all the water sploshing about the course that they might have emerged from the sea. Andrew Coltart, from the drenched lands of Dumfrieshire, shot an acceptable 74, despite playing in the teeth of the gale.

Duffy Waldorf reached the turn in a rather horrendous 45, but he was not ready to be undone. With the wind making a mockery of the Hawaiian shirt he wore beneath his jerkin, he scored 32 over the last nine holes, an extraordinary feat.

It proved that the conditions, though at times appalling, could yet be mastered. We think here of Sandy Lyle’s round of 71 at Muirfield in 1987, with the weather perhaps grimmer still. This was still being evoked yesterday, proof that those who refuse to be cowed by the conditions can make them work in their favour.

Woods knows the truth in this, and spoke yesterday of it being a "brutal day for all of us". He even wished they had been worse: "For me, I wish it had been a little bit more difficult, because if I shot the same round under more difficult conditions, I might have stood a chance."

Much was last week made of Nick Faldo’s joke about finding a woman who might lead Woods astray, and it is interesting to observe that here he has been waylaid by something as capricious - the Scottish weather.

Some have already referred to Woods being cast as a King Lear-like figure in the storm. In the Shakespeare play the howling storm helps usher in a new humility, though this is unnecessary when the subject is Woods. The clouds do not need to crack their cheeks in order to awaken humanity in him.

Woods the supreme sportsman is also supremely sporting, and understands the nature of golf, particularly in Scotland, when the weather can change in a heartbeat. "We all understand that is the way the Open Championship is," he said on Saturday, still sodden and still very much a champion. "The weather is unpredictable and anything can happen."

Yesterday he reflected again on the score that shook the world. "I tried my heart out. I tried all the way round there and I shot 81. That was the best score I could have shot."

Normal service was resumed yesterday, with Woods returning a score of 65. It might have seen him crowned Open champion on another day. This though is Muirfield, a course once described by Jack Nicklaus as being the fairest around but which on Saturday became a grotesquely malignant place for these competitors. It was a privilege to be there, wrapped up in waterproofs and bound up in the drama of it all. All will have benefitted from the experience, and in years, decades to come will be gathering in clubhouses on the seniors tour, recalling the time the North Sea spat at them a storm which made mortals of them all. Goodness only knows how many more majors Woods will have pocketed by then.

He might well have won the Grand Slam that blew from his grasp here. What is certain is that Saturday at Muirfield will linger long in the memory, his included, and might, terrifying though the notion is for his rivals, help make him yet better.

Watching Woods in the gales of Saturday you were struck by the determination etched across his face, as though restrained by a presentiment that, somehow, further enlightenment would come to him out there.