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 Another Thing

Best of British hogging the headlines

With his victory at the Honda Classic in early March, Rory McIlroy knocked Luke Donald off his perch and became the 16th golfer to be ranked No. 1 in the world since the inception of the rankings in 1986. “Enjoy the view,” was Donald’s classy response on Twitter.

Two weeks later, after Donald had won the Transitions Championship, the Englishman was back at the top of the pile. Previously, another Englishman, Lee Westwood, had in October 2010 displaced Tiger Woods, who had been No. 1 for the preceding 281 weeks, 623 weeks in total. One suspects, not least in light of recent events at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, that Woods has not quit on the expectation that he’ll get back there one day. Heading into April, he was back up to 6th. It was slightly sad to hear Arnold Palmer’s lament about the absence of McIlroy from his field. Other nonattendees included Donald and Westwood but – Tiger excepted – Rory is the biggest draw in golf right now and everyone wants him.

Palmer occupied that role in his prime and his support of the Open Championship in the 1960s was integral to the revival of his stature; American golfers had largely shunned it since World War II. Palmer was an internationalist.

But the unavoidable truth is that golfers can’t play every week, and with the Masters looming a fortnight further on, Bay Hill was a pretty obvious week to take off.

McIlroy’s win at the Honda emphasized the extraordinary form he has been in since last September. It meant that in 11 consecutive tournament appearances, he had only once failed to finish in the top-5, and that was 11th place in Dubai. It also heralded a terrific run for British golfers in America. The following week, at the WGC/Cadillac Championship, Justin Rose prevailed by a shot from Bubba Watson and by two from the irrepressible McIlroy. And then it was Donald’s turn to win.

Predictably, that inspired much musing in the British press about home hopes at Augusta and some ridicule of Woods who, when asked about the potential excitement that promised for the Masters, came up with the less than thrilling reply: “I think every year is exciting for me.” But then why would Woods feel that a challenge from McIlroy, Donald and Westwood (one major championship between them) offers a more vigorous test than that offered to him in the past by Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Vijay Singh (ten majors in total)? After all, pre- Augusta, he had 14 for himself.

At any major, it is futile to figure the outcome will be decided between perhaps a handful of players we can readily identify. At the Masters more than anywhere else, most of the 90-odd players in the field are capable of winning. I’d be surprised if Charl Schwartzel was many people’s pick last year and yet he grabbed the title in unprecedented fashion, with birdies on each of the final four holes. I’d also be surprised if Graeme McDowell and Ian Poulter, for example, hadn’t seen themselves – rather than RM, LD or LW – as the likeliest candidate to finish low Brit at Augusta.

OK, WE’RE STILL WITH RORY McILROY. IN THE THIRD round of the WGC/Cadillac Championship, he played the front nine holes of his third round as follows: 533 333 352. How often has the first half of a professional golfer’s round not contained a single four? How often has one been six under par for nine holes having parred both par-fives?

McIlroy then eagled the par-five 10th before the whole thing went to hell in a handcart with a par-four at the 11th. He eventually collapsed to a 65. Still, pretty amazing. As he is.

TELEVISION COMMENTARY on golf causes a great deal of comment, favourable and otherwise. I recently noticed frequent references to “he’s got a makeable putt”. The late, inimitable, Henry Longhurst was perhaps responsible for this, since it was he who coined the phrase’s antonym, “the missable putt”. Longhurst was referring to a tricky putt that Tony Lema, winner of the 1964 Open, was stood over. No one had ever used the term “missable” before on television, at least not in America, and Longhurst’s listeners were charmed.

This was in 1965. That same week, Longhurst apparently became the first announcer on American TV to describe a poor shot as “terrible” (even today, it’s usually “he won’t be happy with that”) and the first invariably to keep quiet while a shot was being played, as one would if out there playing with the man in question. As for the difference between makeable and missable, it’s a lot of nonsense. Tiger Woods has shown on scores of occasions that all putts are potentially makeable, and I’m not sure I’ve ever come across one that wasn’t missable.

May 2012

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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