HOYLAKE, England – Darren Clarke thought it was a joke. The R&A was abandoning 143 years of tradition and opting for an unprecedented two-tee start? No way.
Informed of the change of plans at dinner Friday night at his agent’s house, Clarke said he “used a bit of foul language and called them a liar.”
It was no prank.
In an anticipation of nasty weather, the R&A announced shortly after second-round play was completed that the remaining field of 72 players would go off split tees and in threesomes. The strong rain, fierce wind and rare lightning they expected actually skirted to the east, and players encountered the most scorable conditions of the week.
“It was one of the beauties,” Clarke said of the usual draw. “You get good tee times; you get bad tee times. But they had to do it today, and it looks like they’ve made the perfect call.”
Two-tee starts are nothing new for players, of course, since it is the format used for a normal field of 156 during the first two rounds of PGA and European tour events.
In these unusual circumstances, though, Justin Rose said the bunched tee times were a big advantage for the leaders.
“In any golf tournament if you go out early in the morning, you have an opportunity to make up a lot of ground on the leaders,” he said. “That’s why finishing off golf tournaments is very hard, because typically you get the worst end of the golf course, as well as all the pressure. If you were leading the Open, I think it would have been a nice sort of opportunity to come out and play amongst a very level playing field.”
It also was a bit strange to have players go off 10 without the traditional sendoff from announcer Ivor Robson. In his stead was Mike Stewart, an official on the European Tour, who curtailed his holiday to accept the assignment. Among the players he introduced: Tiger Woods and Tom Watson.
As for Robson, he told the BBC, “I don’t know what I’ll do now this afternoon,” but figured he’d spend the rest of the day watching golf.
Henrik Stenson was among those who started on the back nine, and he said it was a “hassle” because there was a shuttle to the range and then back to the clubhouse and then out to the course.
“We stand there for 15 minutes before we’re going to tee off,” he said. “It’s not ideal, but there was a reason behind it. You can’t really blame that.”
Many players weren’t notified of their Round 3 tee times until late Friday night. Stenson went to bed at 11 p.m. still not knowing when he would tee off, and he said his caddie checked their start time in the middle of the night.
“I was only five minutes off on my guesstimate,” Stenson said.
So, in other words, he was far more accurate than the forecasters.