The Americans call the Saturday of major golf tournaments "Moving Day", the time when, with the cut made, you start your serious challenge. But Moving Day had been moved already, first of all by Tiger Woods' pre-emptive strike on Friday and by the Royal & Ancient, who moved the start times forward to avoid approaching storms.
So there were two challenges faced by the BBC team yesterday - firstly to replace some of the drama that Woods and Ernie Els had surgically removed from the competition, and then to hope that the Woods-Els "Duel in the Sun" would get on before it became "Dancing in the Rain".
The broadcast opened somewhat optimistically at 10am, with little sign that the chasing pack was doing any chasing. Host Gary Lineker teamed up with his Sport Relief colleague Nick Faldo to tip-toe around the subjects of Faldo's missed cut, and a certain playing partner. "You didn't quite make the cut," Lineker sympathised, not mentioning that the "quite" was actually a five-shot margin. Faldo confirmed that he and Tiger were bosom buddies now after all the tabloid speculation but when he suggested that Tiger's "A Game" wasn't quite there with regard to his driving, you sensed jungle drums pounding out the latest slight back to camp Woods. Lineker handed over to the commentary team who began a scan for excitement on the course.
By now the fairways were looking like the crust of a giant pork-pie but John Daly, along with several other heavyweights, had already departed and there was a sense that a lot of character had been stripped from the tournament. Only the pairing of Englishman Lee Westwood and Korean SK Ho provided some light relief - Westward Ho being the likely direction of the Claret Jug.
Indeed at 1.15pm, Phil Mickelson slipped back to two under and his body language reverted to a hunch of defeat. "Bit of a lull at the moment," Sam Torrance intoned, and Peter Alliss grunted in regretful agreement. Earlier Alliss had bemoaned the lack of a challenge from English players.
For a moment, you envisaged Alliss as the headmaster of one those small rural schools where sports and manly pursuits were the curriculum. Torrance would be deputy head, in charge of Rolling Tobacco, Ken Brown would be the eccentric master in charge of fish-hooks and gadgets, while Mark James would be head of japes and Hazel Irvine games mistress. Lineker would be the new head boy, still to prove he'd truly forsaken that beastly game of soccer.
Alliss has become more endearing over the last decade, the John Betjeman - whom he indeed quoted one sunlit evening - of golf commentary. "Stead-dee!" is a catch-phrase that almost deserves its own T-shirt. "We're close to the bewitching hour," Alliss announced poetically as the Tiger-Ernie tee-time approached.
As if in anticipation Sergio Garcia and Jim Furyk went on a birdie-blitz, slipstreaming the scores of the last two groups as they came out. There was some electricity in the air at last, and not yet from the forecast storm. Tiger was cocooned in concentration. Not even the BBC's latest gadget, a gimbal-mounted camera on a two-wheel electric trolley - "Stead-dee-Cam" - could distract Tiger as he stalked down the fairway. But within the few minutes the two-man leaderboard had become six-handed. "It's all happening!" cheered deputy head Torrance, departing from his usual praise, "not too bad".
By now headmaster Alliss had nipped out for tiffin or, more likely, a lucrative spell on the American ABC network - can the BBC not afford him full-time? James of Japes cracked a few welcome gags but nothing to match his Friday description of Ian Poulter's sequinned outfit - "you wouldn't want to walk through the back-streets wearing that" - and an air of levity prevailed.
But out on the course, Els and Woods were suddenly struggling to improve their scores and the exotic name Hideto Tanihara, appeared on the leaderboard, as well as that of Angel Cabrera. "It's all getting a little bit scruffy," headmaster Alliss announced, swishing his cane as he returned. Moving Day had become Standing Still Day for Els and Woods.Reuse content