The flight over was long and uncomfortable, and it seemed like everyone in the world was trying to get through customs and immigration the same time we were. In the end, it was definitely worth it, as we were now almost at the grandest major of them all, The Open Championship. This 147th edition at Carnoustie would be a test that the best players in the world would have to pass in order to become the “Champion Golfer of the year.”
Golf has been played over these links on the edge of the Firth of Tay dating back to the 16th Century. The original course was of just 10 holes. It was not until 1867 that Carnoustie was extended to 18 holes. I personally consider Carnoustie the toughest course in the Open rotation and one of the toughest courses in the world.
The locals will proudly tell you the course is absolutely brutal when the wind blows. However, the same people will let you know that Carnoustie is a brutal test even when the wind does not blow. I believe them.
Doing golf on the radio at an Open Championship is like running in the New York Marathon. A typical day will go 14-plus hours on the job. My challenge in covering golf on talkSPORT is that in Europe, golf is very seasonal . . . and by that I mean golf is second only to cricket in the summer and any other time, everything is second to soccer, or football. But in Scotland, the Home of Golf, it is revered. After all, 172,000 spectators went through the turnstiles at Carnoustie just to see the best players in the world compete for the Claret Jug.
Halfway through the final round of the Open Championship, the sporting world was tuned in and sitting on the edge of their seats as the Tiger of old showed up at Carnoustie. It was electrifying. In light of Tiger’s problems on and off the course, only his hardcore fans had any thoughts of him contending in another major.
Conditions for Sunday’s final round were exactly what the Tiger would have ordered. Due to the unusually hot, dry summer, which the locals say they can count on at least once every 20 years, Sunday’s test was going to be a stern one.
In Tiger’s prime, conditions that difficult would be exactly what he would want to have. Midway through the final round, when Tiger’s name took sole possession of the top rung of the leaderboard ladder, shock waves were reverberating throughout the golf world. The buzz on the course and in the Press Center was incredible. Strangely enough, the only one not seemingly affected was Tiger’s competitor, Francisco Molinari.
The dream of Tiger winning another major proved to be short-lived but it was long enough for me to conjure up thoughts on which victory would be the greatest. Nicklaus’s 18th major in 1986 or Tiger’s 15th? That would have been a tough call for me but ultimately one I did not have to make.
Molinari’s play was simply outstanding. To play the final two rounds of the Open Championship at Carnoustie without a bogey was remarkable. With this win, Molinari becomes the first Italian-born player ever to win the Open Championship and, in fact, the first Italian to win a golf major.
Now the question is: Was this merely a tease by the Tiger or will we indeed witness him claiming major number 15?
I found local East End connection, Duane Bock, on Kevin Kisner’s bag as usual, and right in the thick of things. Duane was kind enough to come on the air with me on talkSPORT to talk about what it was like to be caddying for a leader in the Open Championship with 18 holes to go. Duane provided great insight, which, I’m sure, golf fans around the country really enjoyed.
Speaking of enjoyment, we had lunch today at the Monifieth Golf Club. I even stood on the first tee where five-time Open Champion, Tom Watson, hit his first shot ever in Scotland. Legend has it his drive went straight down the middle but hit the side of a small mound and ended up in the deep rough. Watson turned to the small group of admirers and said: “I don’t think I am going to enjoy playing links golf.” From that humble beginning, Tom Watson established himself as one of the greatest links players of all time.