Throughout the remainder of the holiday season, we will provide a look back at some of the best content from our writers at Global Golf Post Plus. This article originally published on July, 14. Enjoy.
There are Opens and there are Opens. And then there are Opens at St Andrews. Even among such glorious courses as Muirfield, Royal Lytham & St Annes, Royal Birkdale, Royal St George’s and now Royal Portrush, to mention only some of those venues that currently host the Championship, Opens over the fabled Old Course stand out. There is nowhere quite like the Scottish city of St Andrews for its sense of history (its university is the oldest in Scotland and the third oldest in the English-speaking world), its dazzlingly clear light on a summer’s evening, and the feeling the visitor has no matter how many times he or she has journeyed there that this is a place given over to golf and to its townspeople. So much has happened at St Andrews it scarcely seems possible to cram any more history into its narrow alleyways and cobbled streets. History whacks you over the head wherever you look.
Each Open at the Old Course generates more lore. The 2005 Open was the 27th to be held there dating back to Tom Kidd’s victory after rounds of 91 and 88 in 1873. It was another victory for Tiger Woods, his second at St Andrews in the Open, his 10th major championship victory and his second of the year. And he won it going away. He was two strokes ahead with eight holes to play, three ahead on the next, four on the next and five on the next. That was the eventual margin by which he won. The Times greeted this triumph with the headline: “Woods gets keys to No 10 with No Major Alarms” – 10 also being the number of the prime minister’s residence in Downing Street, London.
There are those who will remember it more for it being the last appearance in the game’s oldest major championship of Jack Nicklaus, by then six months past his 65th birthday. He had played in his first Open in 1962 when a wall divided Berlin, television was black-and-white and John F Kennedy was in the White House. At Nicklaus’s last, the Royal Bank of Scotland printed his image on a £5 note and mobile telephones smaller than one of Nicklaus’s hands could transmit photographs of him to any part of the world. “Attending future Opens at Hoylake and Turnberry, Royal Troon and Carnoustie and not seeing Nicklaus will be like visiting Trafalgar Square and finding that Nelson’s column has gone,” I wrote in The Times.
… the chairman of the Association of Golf Writers said of Nicklaus: “ … He has given us more to write about than any other golfer. He has helped us get golf on to the front page of our newspapers and magazines as well as the back page. He is and has been a thread of strong cotton running through the fabric of golf. … ”
There was a moving ceremony on the Tuesday of Open week when Nicklaus received an award from the Association of Golf Writers. Nicklaus and golf writers? That might not have been expected. Arnold Palmer, yes. Palmer played bridge with Pat Ward-Thomas of The Guardian and called The Sunday Times’s Henry Longhurst “Henry Longthirst.” But Nicklaus? Hadn’t it been said that when interviewing him it was necessary to prepare your questions first lest his piercing blue eyes reduce you to a molten speck? A story often told among the journalist old-timers concerns the day Nicklaus’s round had comprised a poor outward half and a good inward half. Later, a keen reporter asked Nicklaus what he had done to improve his fortunes after the turn. “Dudley,” Nicklaus replied briskly. “If I told you that your readers would be even more confused than they already are.”
In time though, the game smoothed out that edge of Nicklaus’s. In short order he became the greatest golfer the world had seen, a model of sportsmanship and a great friend of the Open and of journalists, if not quite as friendly as Palmer. At the ceremony the chairman of the Association of Golf Writers said of Nicklaus: “We had to honour him. … There were no two ways about it because of what he meant to those of us who inhabit this tent and to our predecessors who worked in the forerunner of this tent when Jack arrived for his first Open 43 years ago. … He has given us more to write about than any other golfer. He has helped us get golf on to the front page of our newspapers and magazines as well as the back page. He is and has been a thread of strong cotton running through the fabric of golf.
“It is not just (for) his 18 professional major championships that we’re giving him this award. It’s not just his three victories in the Open nor the fact that he has played in the Open for most years since 1962. It’s not just that he helped to revive the Ryder Cup, that he stood for fair play and honesty and integrity. It’s for all these achievements and many more … ”
Nicklaus’s reply was notable for its simplicity and truthfulness. “Thank you,” he began. “I can’t tell you how much being over here and being able to sit down with you, the writers, over the years has been an experience for me. I know that the press today is a much different animal than when I started coming over here 40 years ago. However, there’s still a lot of fellows who remember the old guard, Michael (Williams) and Pat Ward-Thomas and Henry Longhurst right on down the line.
“And the guys – we’ve got the same guys in the States that we used to be able to sit down with and have dinner with and say anything you wanted to say and you knew it was not going to appear in the newspaper the next day.”
He concluded: “The relationship I’ve had over here with your press … has been, I think wonderful. I’ve really appreciated that. And I’ve appreciated your kindnesses and I’ll miss it.”
Applause drowned out any further words.
Earlier in the week, I had walked into town and knocked on the door of a Georgian house with a basket of red and white flowers hanging outside it. This was the summer home of the Australian golfer, Peter Thomson, a man who knew the Old Course like the back of his hand and had won the second of his five Opens at St Andrews 50 years previously. Each summer Thomson left his home in Melbourne to spend three months in St Andrews. Few understand better the unique relationship between the craggy, distinctive Scottish city and the centuries old game.
“The Old Course is the rock to which golf anchors itself,” Thomson said. “The R&A made it, but it made the R&A.”
Thomson had recently tramped the most famous course in golf, newly lengthened to 7,279 yards, looking at the challenges that five new tees presented. He was impressed. “Agronomically it is much better than it was,” he said. “The fairways are still very tight by comparison with American courses. There is not much grass under the ball but there is infinitely more grass than there was 50 years ago. A wind is a vital test. When there is no wind blowing on the course and it is soft, then low scores pop up around here like 62. In its general condition it is not a 62 course. It is a 69 course. As fearsome as the bunkers are, all 112 of them only amount to a half hectare. The Old Course is 95 percent turf and 5 percent sand.”
On the eve of the Open, in the jaw-jaw that precedes a major championship, Nick Faldo had predicted Woods would win. Woods tended to win the major championships that have been designated Nicklaus’s last – the 2000 U.S. Open and that year’s PGA Championship as well as the 2005 Masters three months earlier.
“I don’t think it’s set up particularly for Tiger but I think Tiger is favourite,” Faldo said. “He’s played, he’s won and he comes here with a mission to win, as always, and his record winning every event where Nicklaus is basically handing over the torch, he’s the one who wins every time.”
In winning the 2000 Open at St Andrews by eight strokes, Woods played 72 holes without once going into a bunker, an unusual and remarkable feat on a course so strewn with bunkers as the Old Course. This time he was in three in his first round but they hardly hindered his progress. He went round in 66, giving himself a lead of one stroke, and a 67 the next day allowed him to open up a lead of five strokes at halfway.
At this point Ernie Els was only one player to regret allowing Woods to take such a lead. They knew his record: If Woods led after 36 holes he nearly always went on to win. He had done it six times to date. If he led after 54 holes, he nearly always went on to win. Els was eight strokes behind Woods after the first round and even a 67 that contained eight birdies in his second round made no impression on the world No 1. “Given the best player in the world’s excellent start, it’s not a great way to start your championship,” Els said. “But I didn’t play great yesterday and he did.”
Sure enough Woods did not concede the lead, a third round of 71 taking him to 12-under par, ahead of José María Olazábal and Colin Montgomerie. When their anticipated challenges came in the final round he repelled them comfortably enough. Woods’s record in that year’s major championships was first, second, first. “I hit the ball so solidly today,” Woods, 29, said. “My only bad shot was on 13, my second shot. But other than that, the golf ball was hit so flush today. It was one of those rounds that I will be thinking about for a long time. I am very thankful it happened at the right time.”
By Sunday afternoon Nicklaus had quit the scene, ending his career in the Open with rounds of 75 and 72. His total of sub-70 rounds in the Open remained at 35. He missed the halfway cut by two strokes, but anyone looking at his 3-over-par total would have been surprised to discover it was achieved by a man in his seventh decade.
The end of Nicklaus’s last round in the Open was much like the start of it. As he teed off, spectators were standing on the verandahs of Forgan House overlooking the 18th green. There was a gaggle of them on the white house next to Tom Morris’s Golf Shop and some watching from the vantage points of windows in private homes a few doors up from Rusacks Hotel. They had come not so much to bid him farewell as to thank him for his immense contribution to the game they loved and played.
Earlier in the week Nicklaus had been asked how he would deal with the void there would be in his life now he had retired from competing in major championships. He said that he was confident he would do it well because he had already discovered some of the pleasures that his exceptional life had denied him hitherto. In particular, he talked of having all his family over to dinner on a Sunday evening, his children, his children’s children running amok around the house, arguing good-naturedly in the kitchen. He talked like the normal grandfather he had never been, like the proud grandfather with a little time on his hands that he had now become.
Woods’s thunder is not often stolen and it wasn’t at this Open. But at St Andrews in 2005, the greatest player of one generation had to share it with the greatest player of another.
Top photos: 134th Open Championship Jack Nicklaus (Nicolas Asfour, AFP/Getty Images) Tiger Woods (Andrew Redington, Getty Images)
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