Brilliant Open finale shows the sport at its best

As good as it gets in golf. The verdict on the 146th Open Championship by a Radio Five Live presenter yesterday morning might not be totally accurate, because it's not the first time it has happened, but it certainly summed up the excitement of the last hour or so at Royal Birkdale on Sunday.

Branden Grace of South Africa shot a remarkable round of 62 on Saturday. Picture: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images
Branden Grace of South Africa shot a remarkable round of 62 on Saturday. Picture: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

Hearing that on the drive back up from Southport also reinforced this correspondent’s strong belief that golf should not be treated like a poor relation in terms of other sports such as tennis and cycling because, as last week showed, the Royal & Ancient game is difficult to be topped in many aspects.

A crowd of 235,000 – a record for an Open Championship outside of St Andrews – took in the action on the Lancashire coast and, apart from those who were there on the Friday afternoon, when the weather turned nasty, they saw golf at its best on one of the best courses in the world.

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As a venue, Birkdale would be my choice if the R&A ever decided to pick a permanent home for the event – don’t worry, it’s not going to happen – and that’s based on it as a whole package; the course, the location of the tented village, practice area etc and, of course, accessibility.

Yes, St Andrews would be the obvious choice if that did happen, but Birkdale, like most of the other venues on the rota, is much better from a viewing perspective and let’s hope the R&A introduces lots more of those raised platforms we are beginning to see when, as is certain though not yet confirmed, the 2021 event is staged on the Old Course.

Encouragingly, that whopping attendance confirmed that the British public doesn’t need Tiger Woods to lure them onto the golf course, the likes of Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler and Jason Day all deserving enormous credit for the way they seem to be stimulating a new generation of golf fans, as well as continuing to make the majors in particular as fascinating as ever for the older generation.

In Spieth, the Open has another great champion, not just in terms of the brilliance he can produce on the course, but also for the way he conducts himself off it. Unlike some sporting superstars – and that includes Woods, I’m afraid – the Texan really seems genuine and please don’t be fooled into thinking it was gamesmanship on his part at the 13th hole in the final round as Spieth most certainly isn’t that type.

That lengthy delay, coupled with Spieth’s subsequent best-ever finish in the event’s history, will long be a talking point as, of course, will Branden Grace’s feat in becoming the first player to card a 62 in a men’s major with his stunning Saturday effort. As the South African was well on his way to that, I tweeted that what was in the offing should be “kept in perspective” due to the conditions being as easy as you will ever find on a links course and kicked up a social media storm in the process.

I have to hold my hands up and admit, inexcusably, that I had forgot that no-one had beaten 63 in a major. Therefore, I apologise profusely to all those I managed to upset as golfing history unfolded and doff my cap to Grace for going one better than the score achieved in majors by no less than 31 players, including ten in the Open Championship alone.

I wonder if Martin Slumbers also regretted something from last week. It was out of character, after all, for the R&A chief executive to be so vociferous as he described the BBC’s coverage of the event as “tired and outdated” as he attempted to heap praise on its new broadcast partner, Sky Sports.

It’s doubtful that anyone would deny that, as an overall package and production, the event has been taken to a new level, but its audience reach in this country has dropped as a result of it no longer being on terrestrial television. Now, the BBC has won the rights to broadcast next month’s USPGA Championship at Quail Hollow after the PGA of America’s negotiations with Sky Sports broke down and it will be fascinating to see how the viewing figures for the two events compare.