Lyle and Co set poorest example by giving up ghost

Walking off, or failing to turn up, proves pampered pros are not hungry enough
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The Independent Online

Birdies were rarer than an airborne ostrich until a young player from Colombia produced a flock of them to remind the rest of the world that Royal Birkdale, the master of the field over the first two uncomfortable days, could be mastered.

Camilo Villegas was not in the picture – the BBC's live coverage finally caught up with him on the 17th tee – until he began to hole every putt as he headed for home in the second round. In the context of what had gone before, his round of 65 on FranticFriday was astonishing, and not least because it contained no fewer than eight birdies, five of them in a row from the 14th. This was almost more than the entirefield managed to muster on Thankless Thursday.

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"It was a fun round," Camilo said of his cameo. Nobody but nobody had associated the links with fun as a British summer donned the waterproofs of winter. With an utterly fearless approach, Villegas showed what was possible. He is playing in his first Open so he obviously doesn't know any better.

"I kept my composure," he said. Many others, with vastly more experience, did not. They are simply not hungry enough. "It was miserable, miserable, miserable weather," Vijay Singh said after staggering around with a 10-over-par 80 in the first round. "It was just a miserable day. You got rain blowing sideways, it was cold, it was windy and I didn't play badly. I just couldn't stand over a putt and feel comfortable. I was always on the defence – that's what happens."

And this from one of the world's biggest winners, who recently criticised the younger generation for living in a "comfort zone" and displaying the ambition to accumulate money and nothing else. He had a point, but he didn't exactly set an example here.

More than anything, Birkdale, a classic Open layout, provided a test of character, and those who were not prepared to battle the course and the conditions were found out. Some could not even be bothered to go through the qualifying process; a few others, who were exempt, opted to stay at home.

Take Kenny Perry. He won on the US Tour the week before the Open, his third victory in seven weeks, and had risen to 16th in the world rankings. He did not play in the US Open and chose not to play in the Open, even though the prize money is huge and the spin-offs to the winner huger. "I played Birkdale in 1991 and missed the cut," Perry said. "I'm not good in 50mph winds. I'm a hot-weather guy."

Bless his cotton socks. Still, every cloud has a silver lining, for Perry's place was taken by Villegas. Perhaps Perry had a hotline to the Met Office, for while he was playing in the US Bank Championship in Milwaukee, his fellow countryman Rich Beem and a former Open champion, Sandy Lyle, were throwing in the towel after playing in the worst of the weather on Thursday. The Royal and Ancient were not impressed. Beem was 12 over par after playing nine holes and walked off, handing his card to a playing partner. At least Lyle, who quit after 10 holes, at which point he was 11 over, stayed around long enough to explain the inexplicable. "I was out of whack with my game and it was best to call it a day. I felt I could do myself more harm than good." Yet by giving up the ghost he did himself immense harm, not least in his ambition to become a Ryder Cup captain.

Lyle described the course as "brutal" while Graeme Storm, one of his playing partners – if only for a couple of hours – said some of the tees should have been moved forward. This was a theme taken up by Simon Dyson, who shot 82 on the opening morning after taking a nine on the par-four 10th. "You can't play it," the Englishman said. "You put a four-handicapper on that course and they'd probably shoot 100. That's no exaggeration. It's nearly unplayable. I don't think I've ever played a par four that I couldn't reach with my best drive and my best three-wood, and there's three out there. That shows how hard it is. I can't believe they didn't put the tees forward. I think they'll come under fire, to be honest."

Royal Birkdale was driving some men to drink. Dyson – "I don't blame Sandy one little bit" – had not had a drink for six weeks but then headed for the clubhouse bar.

It's a given that the higher you score the less likely you are to appreciate a course. Is the course fair, and did the R & A come under fire? Yes and no. "This is right up there," Graeme McDowell said. "I've been really impressed. It's got the classic links feel to it. It's not tricked up in any way, shape or form. It's a solid, tough, fair test. You hit good shots, you get rewarded." And if you don't you get punished. Rocco Mediate, runner-up to Tiger Woods in the US Open, says he is in love with the place, while Ian Poulter, the show pony, said: "You have to take the rough with the smooth and get on with it." Quite.

Brutal? Unfair? Try telling that to Chris Wood, the young amateur from Bristol who comfortably made the halfway cut after chipping in at the last for a birdie three in what looked like an action replay of Justin Rose here 10 years ago. "I feel at home," said Wood, who came through qualifying at nearby Hillside. "All my family and friends are here and I'm taking it all in." No Woods at Birkdale, but they're more than happy to have Wood.

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