Golf: The Open - The American nightmare team

Gracious Duval begins to eat his words about the cruel course but pained Payne is not for turning

OVER THE past three days the deadly links of Carnoustie have sent many a good golfer to meet his maker - Ping, Wilson, Callaway, Taylor Made. It's all very well creating fancy clubs like Fat Shafts, Bubble Burners, Firesticks and Hawkeyes when what they could do with out there are rough-blasters and hay-flatteners.

Not that the club manufacturers are likely to respond to the demands created by the rigours of this Open. If they did, an all-purpose club designed on the lines of the Swiss Army knife would have an immediate appeal. Their more likely reaction is to ignore it and hope that their boys are soon restored to courses that provide a more generous and infinitely less volatile carpet for the execution of shots.

Nevertheless, many lessons have been learned and the most important involves the counting of chickens. There was every indication coming into Carnoustie that the interest would be centred on the jostling for domination between several groups - the up-and-coming "cheeky kid" youngsters; the fine and dandy US Ryder Cup hopes; the nice but dimly shining European Ryder Cup candidates; the usual hotch-potch of colonials; assorted Swedes; and Tiger Woods. The French? Don't be daft.

The kids fared worst of all. When they took a roll-call yesterday of the younger Open fraternity, no one turned up. They'd all been mowed down by Carnoustie's opening fusillade. Most notable among the young victims was Sergio Garcia. Spanish super-kid meets enfant terrible. He finished last of the 154 finishers. But don't say he didn't warn us. His last words before the tournament started were "golf is not as easy as it looks". There are many hopeful beginners who are today hoping that it is not as hard as it looks.

Listed among the fallen whipper snappers were the four amateurs - Luke Donald, Zane Scotland, Paddy Gribben and Graeme Storm - which means that for the first time in 10 years there will be no winner of the coveted silver medal.

In those balmy pre-tournament days when all the talking is done, the American contingent were shaping up menacingly. Before he began carping about the course, Payne Stewart, fresh from his US Open triumph, spoke with an assured eloquence, echoed by the current Open champion Mark O'Meara, as he made extensive references to the Ryder Cup and Uncle Sam in the same sentences.

O'Meara was a cut victim as were Phil Mickelson and Steve Stricker. But, in fairness, seven of the top 10 US Ryder Cup candidates were in action yesterday which by no means backs up the calamity theory. Stewart, despite a poor first day, came back slightly with a 75 on Friday and a 74 yesterday. Justin Leonard, in 17th place in the Ryder reckoning, did best of all with a 71. Of those more highly placed than him, Hal Sutton did best with a 72 but is still three shots adrift of Tiger Woods despite the latter's late collapse. Disappearing off the radar screen were Davis Love and Jim Furyk.

But there was good news about the top ranked American David Duval. Not so much about his golf, which drifted five shots further away from the title yesterday, but his feelings about Carnoustie which had not been gracious hitherto. Asked how he felt about the course after yesterday's 76, he replied: "I like it. I never said that I didn't like it, in spite of what's been said."

Stewart, however, wouldn't let the subject die. He vowed his continued affection for The Open but still expressed his disappointment with the set-up. "It's tough when you have amateur bodies running golf events. I think the USGA have listened to the players in recent years and made the courses playable.

"Will the Royal & Ancient learn a lesson this week? We'll have to wait and see how they set St Andrews up next year. If they do this to St Andrews it is not going to be any fun at all." Perhaps we can arrange a karaoke.

Over in the European camp, where four of the top Ryder men - Jose Maria Olazabal, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Garcia and Alex Cejka - had been lost to the cut, the grumbles were confined to the scores and it wasn't a happy time on balance. Colin Montgomerie fought valiantly but fell one shot to nine over. Darren Clarke took a 76, Jarmo Sandelin a 77 and Sven Struver a 79. Despite a birdie on the last, Mark James came home three to the worse which was the same margin by which Lee Westwood lost ground.

While Jean Van de Velde was by far the best European, Andrew Coltart was the best Briton and his 72 gave him a toe-hold on the leaderboard which he is in the mood to improve upon today.

The colonials, meanwhile, were mixing their messages. While Greg Norman was leaking shots, his fellow Aussie Craig Parry produced the best total of the event so far with a 67. His fellow Australian, Peter O'Malley, managed a 74 but South African Ernie Els couldn't get settled at all on the first nine, had a seven at the sixth, and eventually returned a 54- hole total of 13 over par.

Sweden's Jesper Parnevik jolted his many followers with a round disappointing enough to make you turn the brim of your hat down. His countryman and yesterday's partner Patrik Sjoland also had a faltering round despite two birdies in the first three holes.

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