Golf: 123rd Open: Feherty fails to find the right notes: Martin Johnson follows two players in the leading pack for whom winning is not all that matters

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FOR someone who trained to be an opera singer, the most significant note that David Feherty struck yesterday was an anguished croak. One shot off the lead on the 17th hole, the Irishman launched a three-iron from a hanging lie in the left rough, turned to his caddie, and said: 'That's the best shot I've hit this week. Right there.'

He was right about it being right, anyway. It kicked right, finished in a greenside bunker, and it finished him. Feherty left his next one in the sand, walked off with a bogey, and Fred Daly, in 1947, remains the last Irishman to win an Open championship.

What he would have given for his playing partner's eagle. Mark James made the most of his tee shot, pulling up six inches short of a fairway bunker, the third time he had done so on the back nine. Yesterday, in fact, the leprechauns attached themselves to the wrong man.

Feherty had 12 birdie putts, 11 of which shaved the hole. James saved one par after a near shank with a driver had almost decapitated a group of spectators before finishing six inches from a burn, and rescued another after bouncing a hideous pull off a spectator on to the green.

James and Feherty have been sharing a house this week, and while they are clearly good mates, could scarcely be more different. Feherty is the wisecracking Irishman, happy in his work. James walks around a course as though he has just trodden in something particularly nasty. Once, clearly, he did. 'Why do you always walk with your head down?' a journalist once asked him. 'Because I grew up on a course with 3,000 sheep on it,' was James' deadpan reply.

James tends to deal in deadpan replies. When he got himself into contention on Saturday, someone said: 'Would you find it too much hassle to win the Open?' James gave this some serious thought, and said, with as much weariness as he could muster: 'Probably.'

The reason James does not win majors is party because he makes too good a living simply being pretty good, but mostly because he clearly does not give a fig whether he wins one or not. He declined an exemption invitation to the US Open this year and chose instead to play in the slightly less prestigious Jersey Open. The one thing that really turns him on is gardening, and rarely a hole goes by without him conveying to the crowd that he would much rather be at home tending to his radishes.

If Feherty, who only got here by shooting a 63 to rescue a poor first round in qualifying, has also given the impression that there is more to life than claret jugs or green jackets, then it is more bluster than anything else. He recently said: 'Winning a major has never been one of my goals. My goals are to make a lot of money and retire.'

At the moment, he is in the United States and making enough money there to think twice about the price of a hot-dog, never mind retire. Now based in Dallas, he had made only dollars 46,000 ( pounds 29,700) before yesterday's cheque for pounds 50,000, and he said: 'I've been really miserable in the States. They must think I can't play at all, so although I'm disappointed that I had my best chance at a major and didn't take it, at least I've reminded myself that I can play the game a little bit.'

Earlier in the tournament, he had offered an example of his wit when he returned from taking a leak on the rocks below the ninth tee. He met the journalist on his way back, and said: 'Be careful down there. It's playing against the wind.'

Ironically, it was Feherty's worst tee shot of the round - a wild slice - that yielded his only birdie, at the 10th. He struck a three-iron to 30 feet, and the putt just fell into the front of the hole. Curiously, an American television buggy driver, who had fallen into a deep sleep at the wheel just behind the green, slumbered blissfully through the roar.

Unfortunately for Feherty, it was then back to a round of oohs and aahs rather than roars. If he felt any pressure, he did not show it, and regularly trotted across for a brief chinwag when he spotted a friendly face. James had fewer people rooting for him, although one spectator did lean over the rope as he was addressing his ball in the rough to shout 'You can do it, Mark]' Mark shot him a look which suggested that he would rather be addressing the spectator's head than his ball. Incongruously, James came off smiling after his eagle-birdie finish, while Feherty looked as happy to receive a hug from James's wife than the jug from the Turnberry club captain.

(Photograph omitted)