ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – The locals are famous for saying that if it’s “nae rain and nae wind then it’s nae golf.”
There was rain. And there was wind.
There just wasn’t much golf being played Wednesday on the eve of the British Open.
Kenny Perry wanted to play one more practice round, and the miserable weather wasn’t about to stop him. It just made him think about how long he really wanted to be in the kind of elements St. Andrews hasn’t seen in 15 years for the British Open.
Three holes after he teed off, with raindrops on his glasses and water dripping off a black rainsuit that had turned slick and shiny, he cut across the Old Course to play two holes back toward the clubhouse. As he stepped onto the 17th tee, Perry noticed a man grinning at him from beneath an umbrella.
“What’s there to enjoy?” Perry replied.
Worse yet was leaving the 17th tee with Nick Watney, rain pelting them sideways and the sound of laughter above them. There was Ian Poulter, dressed in shorts and a shirt, taking pictures of them from the comfort of his third-floor room in the Old Course Hotel.
“Having fun down there, boys?” Poulter called out to them.
The fun doesn’t begin until Thursday, when the 139th version of golf’s oldest championship gets under way at St. Andrews, with weather that likely will as much of a factor as Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson or any of the players.
And it’s about time.
The last time the Open came to St. Andrews, there was only one round of a stiff breeze and Woods won by five shots at 14-under 274. Ten years ago on a sun-baked links, Woods set a major championship record at 19-under 269 for an eight-shot win in perfect weather. But there was nasty weather in 1995, when John Daly finished at 6-under 282 and won a playoff.
The Royal and Ancient, which runs this tournament, doesn’t get wrapped up in scores. It lets nature decide that.
“The forecast for the championship is changeable – blustery, showery conditions,” R&A chief executive Peter Dawson, barely able to contain a grin. “Pretty good for links golf.”
This is what Woods will face as he tries to make more history at the home of golf. No one has ever won the Open three times at St. Andrews, and this stage could be an important test for golf’s No. 1 player.
Woods has never gone this far into the calendar without winning. He has never gone more than seven tournaments to start a season without a victory, and the Open marks his seventh event. His preparations included playing Sunday in gusts that approached 50 mph, and the next two days in wind out of different directions.
He also endured a press conference in which about half of the questions were about his personal life. Among his chief critics has been Watson, who has said that Woods needs to “clean up his act.”
Given a chance to elaborate Wednesday, the five-time Open champion declined.
“I said what I needed to say about Tiger Woods,” Watson said. “The one thing that you should be writing about Tiger Woods right now is that he’s won the championship the last two times he’s played here, and that he’s probably the odds-on favorite to win it again.”
The challenge figures to be much greater, a result of Woods’ unpredictable form, the growing number of contenders – especially a European resurgence led by U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell, Justin Rose and Lee Westwood – and the weather.
Defending champion Stewart Cink played eight holes Wednesday on what felt like two courses.
“The opening nine, you’re headed straight downwind with a little off to the right, and it’s like a dream,” he said. Every shot you hit, no matter how bad you hit it, it’s a nice draw. We played four holes and decided to turn around, and as soon as we hit 14 tee box, it was the exact opposite. You couldn’t do anything except his a huge slice. It’s hard to describe how difficult it is.”
The only disappointment Wednesday was the hard rain and cold wind leading the R&A to cancel its “Champions Challenge,” a four-hole exhibition with past Open champions like Lee Trevino, Gary Player, Arnold Palmer and Ben Curtis.
“I was on the range this morning and it’s just brutal out there,” Nick Faldo said. “It wouldn’t have been entertaining for anybody.”
It wasn’t much fun for the marshals or the fans, wrapped in rain gear, walking back from the loop on the far end of the links toward the clubhouse as they searched for players, realizing most of them were doubling back after a couple of holes.
There wasn’t much to gain on a day like this.
“Obviously, we’ve had beautiful weather for two days,” Cink said. “And today, we have a wreck out there. And there’s not many golfers at all. But it’s a fair test.”
The forecast? There could be rain, there might be spells of sunshine, there likely will be wind – that could be last four days or four hours around these parts.
Rose is the freshest face of the English revival, having won two of his last three tournaments in America. He knows these links well, even though he didn’t qualify for the Open in 2000 or 2005. Rose already had in his mind the ideal day, which featured wind.
“It would be nice and sunny, 20 mph breeze across the golf course. I think that would have tested everybody but made it very, very enjoyable,” Rose said. “If we get a little bit of that, it would be nice. And if we get a little bit of the extreme stuff, then so be it. That’s definitely part of the Open Championship.”