Grant Me This: I was only joking, really
PGA.com contributor Grant Boone apparently touched a few nerves with his previous edition of Grant Me This. It seems fans of Barbaro, the Kentucky Derby winner currently fighting for his life, are a fiercely loyal bunch.
First, a big shout out to all you jokesters who sent nasty e-mail accusing me of being an anti-equinite, pretending to misinterpret my reflections on Barbaro as not caring about the horse instead of poking fun at the fact that an overwrought media has given this poor creature the kind of vigil normally reserved for Popes or a Britney Spears' marriage. My favorite feint came from a woman who wrote, "So you don't like horse racing. Well, I don't like golf." Good one! As if you'd be reading this website if you didn't like golf! (Actually, the only missive that made me nervous contained a succession of ominous snorts, signed with what looked like a hoof print.) Still, some of you must be hoarse whisperers today after so much screaming, even though I'm sure it was in jest. I'll say this, the Barbaro Fan Club is nothing if not (like its titular hero) thick-skinned, possessing of a creative and colorful vocabulary, eager with suggestions of where I might permanently stick that last column, and highly skilled at forwarding web pages.
Speaking of our four-legged friends, how about that Open Championship? Royal Liverpool, an erstwhile horse track, is this year's host track. Serious golf fans will recall this course, also known as Hoylake, as the place where absolutely nothing's happened since the last time an Open was played there in 1967. Having waited nearly 40 years for its 11th Open, what was another half hour? A five-hour shower Wednesday night delayed play Thursday morning just enough to allow those on the U.S. east coast to pound the snooze button a couple more times.
Tiger Woods needed no alarm because his tee time was almost tea time, 2:39 p.m. local. But the defending champion got an early wake-up call, nonetheless, when he three-putted the first for an opening bogey. You had to wonder if Tiger had one foot in Hoylake and one Winged Foot back in New York where he'd missed his first major cut as a professional at last month's U.S. Open.
Wonder no more. Tiger has two things going for him now that he didn't have then: fresh tournament experience from the Western Open where he finished second a couple of weeks ago; and four of the yummy kind of par 5s that Tiger typically devours, especially in majors. Thursday, looking literally like his nickname in deep orange and black, Woods played the five pars in 4 under (two birdies and a fist-pumping eagle at 18) with his only par the result of a plugged lie at 10 that forced him to take two from the sand. It added up to a 5-under-par 67 that had Tiger tied for second and in great position to add to an eye-popping statistic that I've just ciphered especially for you, the GMT reader:
Of the 16 major championships he's played as a professional in which par was 72, Tiger's won half. He's batting .500, 8 for 16 -- four Masters, the 2000 and '05 Open Championships at St. Andrews, and the '99 and 2000 PGAs at Medinah and Valhalla, respectively.
For a while Thursday, everyone was making Hoylake look easy. Phil Mickelson was minus-4 through 11 before settling for a 69 in his first major go-round since deep-6-ing his shot at the Grand Slam at Winged Foot. Ernie, Sergio, Furyk, and Weir all went one better with 68s. Goosen, Singh, and David Duval are each in good stead at 2 under. Even past champs John Daly and the ageless Tom Watson shot 72 to put themselves in position to play the weekend.
And, of course, there's the usual smattering of Slatteries, Rumfords, Fukaboris and Frasers that perennially peppers the first page of the Open's early week leaderboard, only to (as Mike Tyson so eloquently put it) "fade into Bolivia" as the week wears on. Actually, Bolivia was about the only civilized nation not represented among the first-day frontrunners. Eleven different countries had at least one player among Thursday's top 19 finishers.
The best of the bunch was Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell, who played his college golf overseas in Birmingham. Not across the Irish Sea in Birmingham, England, but the Atlantic Ocean at the University of Alabama-Birmingham. McDowell's 1970s v-cut, lime sherbet slacks were about the only green to be seen on a toasty Thursday despite the previous night's rain.
How much red is on the leaderboard come Sunday evening may depend on the Great Greenskeeper. The forecast says Royal Liverpool should be baked to a crispy brown by week's end. Hard and fast conditions should make the going tougher for the contestants, but that may be the least of their worries. It's so hot and dry that local authorities have issued fire warnings on course and around town. Not exactly the way the club hoped to return to golf's grand stage after 40 years.
More likely than a calamity of that nature, of course, is that Tiger retains possession of the claret jug he regained last year. And the world's best player winning here may well be the spark this place needs to avoid another drought and remain in the Championship rota. Otherwise, it might be Hoylake's hopes of another Open that go up in flames.
Grant Boone is a husband, father, golf broadcaster, and sports journalist based in Texas. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views and opinions expressed here do not reflect those of PGA.com or The PGA of America.