Facing the unpleasant truth about difficult lies

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The Independent Online
Some of the finest players in golf are grumbling around Collingtree Park in Northamptonshire, their pained expressions conveying the impression that it would be easier to make putts on the nearby M1 motorway.

One of the most conspicuous, predictably you may think, was Colin Montgomerie whose humour was not improved by a bogey-bogey-bogey finish that left him at five over par after three rounds of the One 2 One British Masters. "I think everything has already been said about the conditions," Montomerie muttered.

As frustration had led to 13 defections by the time Montgomerie set off yesterday some thought it surprising to see him still on the course. "We have all come close to walking out, myself, Costantino Rocca, everyone. What persuaded me to stay? Why walk off? But everyone, the players, the sponsors, the caddies, will be grateful when Saturday afternoon comes around and we can all get out out of here."

Normally, I do not have much sympathy with the breed. Golfers often go to work in those sylvan retreats you find in the expensive section of travel brochures. The birds sing, the sun shines; they don't even have to carry their own equipment. They don't end up with scar tissue, dull eyes or slurred speech. Trauma is a bare lie, a ball buried in sand or knee-high rough.They hit a little white ball with scientifically perfect instruments.

A big difference this week is that the targets have not been manicured lawns but patches of grass with a texture somewhere between a worn goalmouth and Margate beach when the tide is out.

An old golf pro of my acquaintance likes to go around saying that in the right frame of mind it is possible to sink putts on a road. "Some of those guys don't know they're born," he growls.

What he would have made of Collingtree is another matter. The best-struck putts bobble and jump and veer off line alarmingly. Anything from further than two feet is a gamble. Players with a serious attack of the "yips" would end up as suitable cases for treatment. On these greens the Australian leg spinner, Shane Warne would be unplayable.

The story is on the leaderboard. Only two players, Robert Allenby of Australia and Pedro Linhart of Spain in red figures. Only two others at level par. One of the latter pair, Rocca wore a doleful expression as he putted out from a few inches at the 10th after watching a noble effort dribble off line. A shake of the head suggested that the Italian could think of better things to occupy his attention.

More or less everywhere you went on the course players were cursing the imperfections. Ten feet from the pin was a problem. End up further from the hole and you could forget about a birdie.

None of this appeared to bother Allenby who got around in a one-under 71 despite dropping two shots at the first. No complaints from him.

Plenty earlier in the week from Ian Woosnam who yesterday allowed for a patch of real grass on one green only to see the ball shoot five feet past. "Impossible to read the greens," he said.

A birdie-birdie finish repaired the Welshman's round, keeping him in contention at one over. Montgomerie's chances more or less went when his approach to the 18th clattered back into the water. After his tee shot at the 10th the Scot paused for a word with the tournament director, Mike Stewart. A private conversation but you could imagine what Montgomerie was saying.

Understandably, the leader was philosophical. "Same for everyone," Allenby said, "you've just got to get on with it." He also said something about whingeing.