'What's that coming over the hill? Is it a Monty?'
Over 45,000 fans braved pouring rain to send Europe off in true Welsh style – by singing. Paul Mahoney reports from the first tee
Saturday 02 October 2010
Singing in the rain. And what a glorious feelin' it was. Undeterred, under umbrellas, under Glastonbury conditions, 45,000 spectators swamped the course at first light yesterday, with a sprint to the first tee like the start of the Boxing Day Sales on Oxford Street.
It deteriorated into a mud-sliding contest, though, and only the fittest, and those with the sharpest elbows and most sensible shoes, survived.
Just after 7am, the grandstand that horseshoes the first tee was packed to its 1,500 capacity. There were another 1,000 fans crammed behind the ropes and they stood eight-deep all along the fairway to the green. Celtic Manor's billionaire owner Sir Terry Matthews had promised stadium golf. Wales delivered.
It took just 13 minutes for the football chants to echo across the Usk valley. And it was Sergio Garcia (who else?) that pumped up the volume. The air-punching Spaniard was sent out in his vice-captain's role as the warm-up act. Cue the dawn chorus: "Olé, olé, olé, olé." Repeat to fade. Then start up again. And the rain kept falling.
Edoardo and Francesco, the Flying Molinari Brothers, arrived next. No place for them in the fourballs. They were here to show support and drink in the atmosphere.
"Two Molinaris, there's only two Molinaris. Two Molinaris..." Genius. Up next, Miguel Angel Jimenez. No cigar. Too damp. "We're all off to sunny Spain, Y Viva España," came his inspired serenade from the drenched European fans. Jimenez raised his arms and conducted them. Then shortly before 7.45am, Europe's captain made his big entrance.
Colin Montgomerie received the regulation Neanderthal punctuation mark greeting. "Monty! Monty!" That was accompanied by the altogether more creative 'What's that coming over the hill. Is it a Monty?' He looked younger somehow. Perhaps it was the result of the relief that the phoney war of words was finally over. Now, it was all about golf. Or maybe Monty has a Dorian Gray-type portrait of himself hanging in the team room.
Finally, a moment of silence. Like when a football crowd takes a collective breather before that rush of adrenaline belts out the roar at the point of kick-off.
"Ssssshhh," came the call from the grandstand. Finally, a voice from America. A solitary fan found the courage to get up (or maybe his seat was just wet), unfurl his American scarf and yell "U-S-A, U-S-A". It was like a Manchester United fan standing up in the Kop at Liverpool. The poor dude got a patronising but jolly salvo of "Who are ya?" before he sat down again to an encore of "You're not singing any more." Not so much God Bless America, more Ah, Bless.
Then a roar like golf hasn't heard before. It was loud at the K Club in Ireland in 2006. But the volume here was simply Spinal Tap – cranked all the way up to 11.
Enter Europe's No 1 pairing of Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer. Westwood was in the zone but relaxed. Never mind that he looked like a Flowerpot Man with his floppy rain hat squished over his ears. The Englishman turned to Ivor Robson, the starter, and winked. "Mornin' Ivor," Westwood said grinning. "You nervous?"
Dustin Johnson was first to hit. He couldn't have looked any more on edge had he been given a bottle of champagne and been asked to tease out the cork without it exploding. Then bang! His drive popped straight right, into the crowd. Westwood puffed his cheeks, stepped up and whacked his drive down the middle of the fairway. Worksop's finest, to the Celtic Manor born.
No sign of curly Rory McIlroy wigs. Maybe they had straightened out in the rain. Did we mention it was raining? Another rendition of "Olé, olé, olé" for McIlroy and Graeme McDowell. "The crowd just goes nuts. We need more of it," McDowell said during the rain delay. "It's fantastic – the nearest thing we'll ever get to playing at Old Trafford (the Ulstermen are Manchester United supporters).
There was a crackle of anticipation waiting for match three: Ian Poulter versus Tiger Woods (with a little help from their friends Ross Fisher and Steve Stricker).
Woods received a friendly ovation followed by a gentle goading. "Tiger, Tiger, give us a wave." Tiger declined. Too wet to wave, presumably. That would be Tiger, not just the weather. Poulter took slow, deliberate giant steps to the tee, wide-eyed like a boxer entering the ring. "One Ian Poulter, there's only one Ian Poulter ..." Just as well, really. The world may not be big enough for two Ian Poulters.
"That first tee is truly the most incredible experience ever," Poulter Tweeted (back in the team room, not on the course). "The buzz from the crowd shakes through your body with so much electricity. I love it." Padraig Harrington and Luke Donald loved it, too, bringing up the rear for Europe against the US rookies Bubba Watson and Jeff Overton. Another chorus of "Olé, olé, olé" anyone?
The Worst Costume award went to Team USA. It turns out that the players' retro-style waterproofs aren't, ahem, waterproof. PGA of America officials were last seen scuttling off to the merchandise tent to buy new kit.
The US captain Corey Pavin has been introverted all week, worrying that a secret plan might slip out from the team room. Imagine his embarrassment to discover that the leak came from his team's uniform. "D'oh!" as Homer Simpson would say.
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