Thursday, July 19, 2007

Under the Scotch Mist, a Lovely Day to Play

Sports of The Times
July 20, 2007

Carnoustie, Scotland

To a bartender in a local pub, a Scotch mist means two ounces of the national libation over crushed ice in a tall glass with a twist of lemon. But to the golfers in this 136th British Open, a Scotch mist is what dripped from the gloomy gray sky hanging over yesterday’s chilly opening round. And the weather apparently isn’t about to change much.

“Generally cloudy with drizzle showers in the morning, drier in the afternoon,” the Friday forecast read. “Wind E or NE at 10, increasing to 15 m.p.h. Chilly, temperature mid-50s.”

The outlook for tomorrow’s third round was “rain, becoming persistent with heavier outbreaks” and the wind increasing to 20 miles an hour, with gusts to 30 m.p.h. For the final round Sunday, it’s expected to be “mainly dry at first, with the risk of slow-moving heavy showers building for the afternoon.” But the wind would be lighter, with the temperature in the low 60s.

Almost anywhere else, wet, windy weather would be condemned as unsuitable, if not unspeakable, for these pros who follow the sun. But here on the eastern coast of Scotland off the North Sea, the natives consider it a lovely day as long as umbrellas are not needed. Especially for golf, and especially for what is developing into a very competitive British Open.

When the Scots say, “If it’s nae wind, it’s nae golf,” it’s almost as if a mist, or even a chill, doesn’t count. And to hear the positive thinkers up there on the leader board, yesterday’s relatively light wind, which fluctuated between 10 and 15 m.p.h., was the most defining factor as British Open fashion reverted to an old look: rain gear, sweaters and turtlenecks.

Asked if the weather helped, hurt or made no difference, Sergio García from sunny Spain, the leader with a six-under-par 65, was grateful for the morning mist, as well as for the rain Tuesday and Wednesday.

“It was definitely cold, a little breezy, but not too much,” he said. “So it was playable. But the rain from Tuesday and Wednesday and the morning softened up the course a little bit and made it easier to hit the fairways, stay away from the bunkers and also hold the greens.”

Paul McGinley of Northern Ireland, who had a four-under-par 67, wore mittens between shots to keep his hands warm.

“I can’t play golf when my hands are cold,” he said. “I’ve got two sweaters on today and I had the mittens on. The one thing I don’t want to do is get my hands cold because I lose the feel in my hands. I’m very much a feel player, hence the mittens. Even if it’s moderately cold, I’ll have the mittens on. They’re something that stays in the bag and never comes out.”

Among the early starters in the mist, Tiger Woods, who wore a high-collared rain jacket that he took off on the back nine, shot a 69. He also kept his hands in mittens.

“Starting out, the guys before us certainly got the worst of the weather,” he said. “It was rainy. It was windy, especially when they were warming up. But it basically died down and the wind still stayed up, but it basically wasn’t raining. It also warmed up a little more.”

Another early starter, K. J. Choi of South Korea, birdied four of the first six holes in the mist before posting a 69.

“Starting out today, when it started to rain, I actually felt pretty comfortable because I had practiced in the rain yesterday,” he said. “Today, I just found my rhythm and had a good round.”

Retief Goosen, a two-time United States Open champion from South Africa, skidded to a 70 after being four under par through 14 holes.

“It’s cold, that’s the main thing,” he said. “The ball’s just not going anywhere. Into the wind, you’re hitting three extra clubs. So it is cold. I have it all on — T-shirt, sweater, the whole works. It is cold, and this morning with the rain, it was even worse. When I was hitting balls on the range this morning, I could just barely warm up. I don’t know why I went, it was so cold.”

Over Goosen’s final holes, however, his bare forearms were exposed to the cold that didn’t seem to bother Paul Lawrie, the Scot from nearby Aberdeen who won here in 1999 after Jean Van de Velde blew a three-stroke lead on the 72nd hole.

“They weren’t tough at all,” Lawrie said of the weather conditions after salvaging a 73 with a birdie on the last hole. “Some rain and a little bit of wind. But as far as Carnoustie is concerned, I don’t think you’re going to get it any better. The weather was fine.”

Perfectly fine for a British Open, and especially for anyone who, on or off a golf course, would enjoy either liquid version of a Scotch mist.


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