The art of emulating our heroes

We duffers must flail away in the hope of getting marginally better at this fabulous, frustrating game

In all honesty, and as daft as it now seems, I didn't think he could do it. I thought that the burden of expectation would weigh too heavily. I also reckoned I had detected a slight fallibility in his putting stroke which might possibly be magnified by those alpine St Andrews greens.

In all honesty, and as daft as it now seems, I didn't think he could do it. I thought that the burden of expectation would weigh too heavily. I also reckoned I had detected a slight fallibility in his putting stroke which might possibly be magnified by those alpine St Andrews greens.

I should have known better. If nothing else, I should have known not to doubt the collected wisdom of Mr Ladbroke, Mr Coral and Mr Hill, not to mention old Statto, who is £10,000 better off this morning after five years ago wagering £100 at 100-1 on Tiger Woods to win the Millennium Open. Me, I invested a tenner each way in the 40-1 prospects of Sergio Garcia, so what do I know? Still, at least I'll recoup my losses after a £25 side-bet with the eminent golf correspondent of Scotland on Sunday that Garcia would finish higher than Nick Faldo, a bet I am committing to print just in case it has slipped his sometimes porous mind.

We struck it on the eve of the Open over a top-notch tandoori at the Balaka restaurant in St Andrews, an establishment also patronised last week by Seve Ballesteros, Tom Kite and Padraig Harrington. The Balaka finished well up the money list in the unofficial championship to find the restaurant frequented by most famous golfers. Top, by a Tiger Woods margin of dominance, was the Road Hole Grill at the Old Course Hotel. Second, as far as I can tell, was the cornily yet cannily named Claret Jug restaurant in the basement of the Dunvegan Hotel, soon to be adorned by a picture of Tiger with his latest trophy.

Meanwhile, if there is anybody or anything that emerges from the 129th Open Championship with as much credit as the champion, it is surely the Old Course itself. After the third round, Woods and David Duval, Nos 1 and 2 in the world, were lying first and second in the Open. That is how it should be. And the failure of defending champion, Paul Lawrie, even to make the cut offered a further reminder, if one were needed, that Carnoustie 1999 was a case of a freak course delivering - with all due respects to a decent but unremarkable player - a freak winner.

Speaking of freakish occurrences, it is time to reflect that this Open did not yield a single hole-in-one on the short eighth hole, yet on 10 May, 1988, watched by my friends Doug, Tony and Dom, I popped it in with a (slightly thinned) seven-iron. Just think, Tiger at his imperious best has just played the eighth at St Andrews four times without seriously threatening a hole-in-one, yet is still surpassed by me, a humble 10-handicapper at the time. I know of only one other golfer - Ben Crenshaw - who has achieved similar glory at the eighth. Which is one reason why we duffers must continue to flail away in the hope of getting marginally better at this fabulous, frustrating game, and not be cowed into submission by Tiger.

For his level of genius is as dispiriting as it is inspiring. His historic victory yesterday will prompt thousands of people to take up golf, or at any rate to dust off their half-set of Lee Trevino Accurists bought in 1975, but many will fall by the wayside, infuriated that they cannot seem to get the ball airborne quite like Tiger does. They should persevere. Because not least among golf's many attractions is the certainty that the most hopeless hacker will, up to 18 times a round, execute a shot that not even Tiger could improve upon. More often than not, this will be a tap-in from four inches. Occasionally, as in my flukey achievement 12 years ago, it will be something more glorious.

I have written before of my friend Davey, possibly the worst golfer in the world, who nevertheless scored an improbable albatross two on the par-five fifth at Castletown GC in the Isle of Man a few years ago. His second shot, aided by a gale-force wind, rose barely 10 feet above the ground and, pursuing a banana-shaped trajectory, clattered the flagstick at about 50mph before disappearing from view. To put this into perspective, when the South African Manny Zerman did likewise on Friday, on the 14th on the Old Course, PeterAlliss remarked that it was only the second albatross he had ever seen, following one by John Jacobs in a matchplay event at Hoylake "many moons ago".

I cannot think of any other sport to which this phenomenon applies, nor one in which you can perform in the same arena as your heroes. Nor one, for that matter, blessed by anyone quite as heroic as young Tiger Woods. I bet he never gets a hole-in-one at St Andrews, though. Not too much, mind.

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