Golf: Scots warm to the task

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The Independent Online
IN theory it is a good idea. Make the first three days of the Alfred Dunhill Cup a round-robin instead of a knock-out competition and guarantee every player at least 54 holes. The spectators would have more golf to watch and quality would have longer to prevail over chance.

In theory. In practice the weather was so foul at St Andrews yesterday morning that any sound- minded man would shudder at the prospect of one round, never mind three. The wind and the rain hurtled in off the North Sea and thrashed around the Old Course making the 'home of golf' as warm and welcoming as an NUM invitation to Michael Heseltine. The cold shouted 'fore' and sliced under the waterproofs.

No golfers suffered more than the Thailand team. They had undertaken a 17-and-a-half-hour flight from Bangkok to find the temperature had dropped around 50F on the way by the time they touched down in Scotland on Monday. The Thais have since played two practice rounds at times their bodies would normally expect to be in bed and got frozen in the process.

For the last three years Thailand have reached the Dunhill Cup finals and on each occasion have returned wiser but sadder after 3-0 defeats, twice to England and once at the hands of the Scots. Yesterday's draw did them no favours, putting them in the same group as Australia, who have won this event twice, last year's runners-up South Africa and a German team, two-thirds of which won the World Cup two years ago.

Their manager, Prasertchai Soongsavang, put a brave face on it, saying that the new format would give his players the chance to recover their form if they began badly. Then he made contact with reality. 'We will try very hard to lose matches 2-1,' he said.

For the home nation, of course, yesterday's weather was perfect. They say that people north of the border are football mad but their club-and-ball brigade also give cause for concern in their earnest pursuit of the worst conditions to play in. Golf, to a Scot, is only a true test when the flags are bent double and it requires the sweet spot in the driver to go 50 yards. Why the Open Championship is played in July and not January is a complete mystery to these people.

'We want it to be as wet and windy as possible,' Colin Montgomerie, the home captain, said. 'It might not be much fun for the spectators but we have a job to do. The worse the conditions the better it will be for us.' It will need to be, as Scotland must head last year's winners Sweden if they are to win their group and qualify for Sunday's semi-finals. They begin today against Canada.

Tom Kite, who leads the favourites, the United States, also suspected the weather might be playing into the hands of the locals. 'If it stays like this there are going to be some high scores,' he said. 'The home teams will have an edge. They know the course and are used to playing here when the weather gets rough.' He then blew holes in his thoughts by including Wales, who failed to qualify, among England, Scotland and Ireland as the likely winners.

Not a good day for theories.

DUNHILL CUP Today's tee-off times: Group 1: United States v New Zealand: 9.0am F Couples v F Nobilo; 9.10 D Love III v G Waite; 9.20 T Kite v G Turner. Ireland v Korea: 9.30 P Walton v Cho Chul-Sang; 9.40 C O'Connor Jnr v Park Nam-Sin; 9.50 R Rafferty v Cho Sang-Ho. Group 2: Spain v Italy: 10.0 M A Jimenez v G Cali; 10.10 J Rivero v C Rocca; 10.20 J M Olazabal v S Grappasonni. England v Japan: 10.30 S Richardson v M Kuramoto; 10.40 D Gilford v N Yuhara; 10.50 J Spence v H Makino. Group 3: Scotland v Canada: 11.0 G Brand Jnr v D Mijovic; 11.10 C Montgomerie v B Franklin; 11.20 S Lyle v R Zokol. Sweden v France: 11.30 R Karlsson v J Van de Velde; 11.40 P-U Johansson v T Levet; 11.50 A Forsbrand v M Farry. Group 4: Australia v Germany: 12.0 G Norman v B Langer; 12.10 R Davis v H P Thuel; 12.20 I Baker-Finch v T Giedeon. South Africa v Thailand: 12.30 J Bland v S Sophon; 12.40 E Els v B Ruangkit; 12.50 D Frost v T Wiratchant.