ST ANDREWS // Inclement weather is threatening to take the gloss off the 150th anniversary of the British Open. A special commemorative challenge match, involving 26 former champions, had to be cancelled yesterday and the 156 men who set off today in pursuit of the famous Claret Jug have been warned that their opening rounds may be disrupted.
Fierce winds and driving rain made the Old Course at St Andrews a potential card wrecker and many players abandoned scheduled practice rounds. Those who did take on the elements, including Stewart Cink, the defending champion, did so in front of empty stands as all but a few diehard spectators opted for the cover of the tented village as they waited for the serious business to begin at 6.30am today.
Cink, who reluctantly handed back the Claret Jug he won in a play-off against Tom Watson at Turnberry 12 months ago to its Royal and Ancient custodians, was relieved to get back on dry land. "We've had two beautiful days but today we have a wreck out there," he said. "It is virtually unplayable. There are not many golfers at all." Cink spoke of the enormous contrast between going out downwind and coming back into the wind which, if repeated in today's first round, will bring about some lop-sided scoring on a par 72 course of two fairly equal halves.
"I'd say that par on the back nine would be more like around a 40 on a day like today and the par on the way out might be a 34," said Cink. "The golf ball doesn't travel at all when it's like this. So it's a lot of work coming in. "It's hard to describe how difficult it is. Not only do you have the weather to worry about, but you've got OB [out of bounds], you've got bunkers that you can hardly play out of and then there's the length of the course."
Cink insisted he has not become frustrated over the last 12 months by being frequently described as the man who deprived Watson of a sixth British Open title rather than the man who won his first. "If I hadn't won the tournament last year in that way, with Tom being involved, it wouldn't have been such a special event," he said. "So I'm not tired of hearing it. I don't feel like he's taken anything away from me."
Cink, who starts his challenge in the company of South Africa's Ernie Els and England's Ian Poulter, regards his chances of making a successful defence of his one and only major title as slim. This year hasn't really been a good year for results on the course," he said. "But lately I've been playing a little better. It's very similar to last year where I really had nothing going at all until, boom, Turnberry. I'm hoping this year we can say, boom, St Andrews'."
It has been a case of boom, boom St Andrews for Tiger Woods, Cink's fellow American who has won the last two Opens here. Despite reservations about his all-round game and concerns about his putting, a hat-trick of titles is not beyond the realms of possibility. Woods will be wary of the Europeans whose revival in the majors, started by Padraig Harrington three years ago and stepped up by Graeme McDowell in last month's US Open, is gathering momentum.