How Alliss came to the fore after finding Woods in blunderland

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The Independent Online

It's that time of year again, when we golf fans of, how can I put this, the post- plus-fours generation must decide whether to allow Peter Alliss into our living room or consign him once more to the mute button. Or, as we call it in our household, the McCririck button.

For years, those of us young enough to believe that Mashie and Niblick were two Harry Enfield characters have always regarded it as an Open and shut case - Alliss has opened his mouth, we've shut our case. But this year it was time to give the old chap a chance. After all, cut underneath the snobbery and the rampant right-wing views and he isn't that bad a bloke, really.

And I must confess I am starting to get Alliss. Starting to realise just what it is that makes this trusty upholder of everything English such a favourite to so many. To this tank-topped legion of armchair fanatics, The Open wouldn't be The Open without Alliss.

My conversion last week did not occur on any rocky road to Damascus, but on the rockier route to the first green. If comedy is indeed all about timing then the BBC schedulers were in Eric Morecambe class by choosing to tee off their coverage with Tiger Woods' opening hole. Here they had stumbled on half an hour of hilarious reality TV that was more Big Bother than Big Brother. And when you consider that it was 9am on a Thursday, when usually only those grotesque moral crusaders led by Kilroy are patrolling the airwaves, this really was manna from Shepherd's Bush.

Alliss played the hole perfectly. For while Ken Brown spoke in almost funereal tones about the seemingly fatal predicament Tiger found himself in, Alliss grasped the mood of an entire nation and took what we all demanded he take - namely, the piss. Never had we had so much fun watching a futile search, especially when we saw it was Tiger who was getting the needle in this haystack.

Because we weren't interested in feeling sympathy for a multi-millionaire suddenly discovering that sometimes you do hit them and never see them again. We were just delighted to behold a sporting god reduced to behaving like one of us, and were determined to get maximum satisfaction from such a rarity. Joyfully, Alliss took us deep into blunderland.

As Tiger stomped around the rough, a marshal shouted: "Found one. What you playing?" "Nike One," Tiger replied, excitedly. The marshal's head shook and Alliss butted in. "Sorry, old boy," he said, putting on his best jobsworth impression. "This one's a Penfold Two." Cut to a stone-faced Tiger being buggied back to the tee by a petrified official. Alliss could not resist it. "It probably wouldn't be an opportune time to ask Tiger, 'Found any nice restaurants in Deal yet?' "

There was more of this, much more, and when Woods finally putted out for a seven, we were bereft. Surely they'll commission a sequel, we thought. And what about the Christmas special? But there was no sequel. Tiger responded like the pro he is, and Alliss went back to wishing his 80-year-old friends a happy birthday. "Grand old bloke, Ted. Still chasing them down the fairways in blah blah blah." Still, when you see the alternatives, it does make you dread the day Alliss isn't there. It seems the BBC are lining up Mark James and Sam Torrance as possible replacements, but unfortunately they both look like they should be charismatic but come across as average. Golfers usually are, the humility dished out by this cruellest of games sapping the spirit of even the liveliest characters. Look at Seve Ballesteros, now moping in hiding.

That is why Alliss is so precious, regardless of his many faults. OK, so he does talk twaddle when he should be talking golf, he may shamelessly plug his own courses, but in between he comes out with the odd gem that defines the whole experience.

An example of this was on Friday, as S K Ho stood over a 35-footer for an eagle. As the putt started to roll, Alliss said: "Ho for the wings of a dove." As the last word came out, the ball dropped. So did my jaw. I had just fallen for Alliss.