Rocco rolls and weather roils

By Brian HewittJuly 17, 2008, 4:00 pm
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Open ChampionshipWhat we needed, I had written in this space and opined on GOLF CHANNELs air, was something different, something to make us forget that this 137th Open Championship was Tigerless.
Little did I know at the outset Thursday that Rocco Mediates summer of love affair with the game would continue late in the first round at Royal Birkdale.
When last seen at a major championship Mediate was taking Tiger Woods to the limit at the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in June. Woods triumphed, but only after 19 holes of playoff golf on the Monday after the Sunday on which the championship was supposed to end. Then Woods shut his season down because of a bum left leg.
Rocco Mediate
Rocco Mediate is looking for redemption after a near-miss at the U.S. Open. (Getty Images)
Sneaky good Mediate remained on a roll Thursday in England when he birdied the last two holes to gain a share of the first-day lead with Robert Allenby and Graeme McDowell at 1-under 69.
It has been, Mediate said, an amazing trip.
Before that, the story was the weather. And I can guarantee that none of the early risers Thursday looked out their bedroom windows at the wind and chill and rain and thought about Tiger Woods.
For the first half of the first day Birkdale presented players with the kind of conditions where the wind whips so hard the flagsticks double over in silent laughter at the futility of the prospect of anybody breaking par. The kind of weather where, years from now, we will still be talking about the gale that blew and the compellingly miserable conditions at a place that changed from Birkdale to Barkdale on the first day of the 2008 championship.
You knew something odd was up when you saw the name Shintaro Kai at the top of the leaderboard early. This 27-year-old Japanese journeyman arrived in England having missed his last two cuts in his native land. But when he birdied the first hole he sprinted ahead of the field.
Then you looked at some of the other early numbers: Vijay Singh 11 over through 13; Rich Beem 9 over through six; Phil Mickelson 7 over through nine. Those are all former major champions, folks.
My pre-tournament pick, Lee Westwood, who grew up not that far from Birkdale, was 5 over through 10. Westwood managed to bring it home in 75. Singh wasnt so lucky. He shot 80.
To repeat, nobody at this point was thinking very much about the recuperating Woods, snug in his cozy Florida home back in the States.
The game was on and the game was hard. Temperatures in the 50s. Winds in 20s, gusting up to 35. Rain blowing sideways. Dunes and mounds looming like frozen tidal waves. Rough that was wet and thick and nasty and unforgiving.
No, Toto, we werent in Kansas anymore. Or, for that matter, Augusta or Torrey Pines.
You cant believe the ball can go that short, said Retief Goosen when asked about playing into the wind after shooting a 1-over 71.
Youre trying to keep your grips dry and youre trying to keep your glove dry and that throws off your rhythm, said 5-time Open Championship winner Tom Watson after carding 74.
Today it gave us a big test, said Justin Rose, who returned 74.
You can get an ear ache out there because its blowing so hard, said U.S. Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger from the sanctuary of the TV booth.
I felt like anything in the 70s was gonna be a good score, said world No. 2 Phil Mickelson after shooting 79.
So now the big question is: How will Fridays weather shake out? There is no guarantee that Thursdays pattern will be repeated. If its calm in the morning and ugly in the afternoon, half the field will have had what amounts to about a six-shot lead over the other half.
Weather, the joke goes, has been around a long time. Weather also doesnt know what day of the week it is. Weather quite often isnt fair. And theres scientific evidence to prove that weather knows a Tiger Woods from a Shintaro Kai, who by the way, signed for 80 Thursday.
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