Old Course bids Palmer fond farewell

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The Independent Online
On a day when a 20-year-old amateur led the 124th Open Championship, albeit briefly, a 65-year-old legend brought the Old Course to its feet, if not its knees. There was barely a dry eye in the auld grey town as Arnie took his final tumultuous bow. "When I came up the 18th I kept thinking about 1960 and what that led to," Palmer said.

What that led to was a 35-year -old fling with golf's oldest championship, and Palmer is recognised as the man who gave not only the silver claret jug a warm embrace but the Open itself the kiss of life. When American golfers dominated the game in terms of style and skill, the majority considered the Open to be a major they could live without.

Palmer, despite having to qualify in those days, thought differently and when the man from Pennsylvania with the physique and power of a prizefighter pitched up at St Andrews in 1960 the Royal and Ancient had found a saviour. "I guess it's over," Arnie said yesterday. He shot a respectable 75 in the second round and the reception he got as he took the ultimate walk was both moving and heartfelt.

On every yard, from the tee, over the Swilcan Burn and across Granny Clark's Wynd, Arnie was cheered and applauded from the rooftops, from balconies, from every nook and cranny. Players, including Lee Trevino and Gary Player, added to the warmth of the occasion. In the stands they stood to him. The Old Course was bathed in sunshine and Arnie raised his sun visor before signing off with a par. Palmer may be a bit deaf but he got the message alright.

Meanwhile, another golden oldie, Jack Nicklaus, lived to fight another day, recovering from the trauma of a 10 in a first round of 78 with a 70 yesterday. That left Nicklaus at four over and he survived the halfway cut by virtue of being within 10 shots of the lead.

That was held at six under par by John Daly, Brad Faxon and Katsuyoshi Tomori, and Nicklaus was particularly grateful to Daly. At the 18th, which was playing downwind, "Wild Thing" drove the green and had he not three putted from 45 feet, Nicklaus would not have made the cut.

The only roar to remotely compare to the decibel level that greeted Palmer was reserved for the young Scot Gordon Sherry, who continued his remarkable odyssey around the Old Course, and he remains on the leaderboard after battling through the worst of the conditions.

When Nick Faldo won the Open here in 1990 he landed in one bunker in four days. On Thursday, in a round of 74, he was in the sand on four occasions and yesterday he avoided all hazards in compiling a near flawless 67, the joint best round of the day. He had six birdies and the only blemish was a bogey five at the 16th. "Anything under 70 was a good score and I'm right back in it," Faldo said. After spending hours on the practice putting green, Faldo began by holing from 25 feet for a three at the first.

Most of the overnight leaders, including Tom Watson and David Feherty, lost ground but not the Japanese player Tomori. He had a solitary bogey in a round of 68 and, through an interpreter, described the Old Course as being too difficult. On his first appearance in Scotland he was 10th in the Scottish Open at Carnoustie last week, and is not sure whether he likes links golf or not. From Okinawa, Tomori, at the age of 40 and with the build of a jockey, is belatedly broadening his golf experience. He has the assistance here of a caddie known as "Turnberry George" and although neither understands each other, the partnership appears to be dovetailing neatly.

"Katsuyoshi is very happy to be playing here," an interpreter said. "He has no words to express his feelings. He just smiles when he gets a birdie and when he made a bogey he felt anguish in his heart." Until he was 22 Tomori had a part-time job collecting balls on a practice golf range, and he turned professional in 1983. "He doesn't think of the history of St Andrews or that for him this is a special occasion," the interpreter said. Tomori, however, is another day.

Faxon was a little more respectful. Although he is playing at St Andrews for the first time he feels he knows the course well after watching championships on television. "I can remember Jack's sweater when he won here in 1978," Faxon said. OK, what was Nicklaus wearing 17 years ago? "A light blue and white cashmere," Faxon said.

The amateur who briefly led in the second round was Steve Webster, who got to six under before finishing at two under after a 72. Webster, a pal of Paul Broadhurst's at Atherstone, feared that he might have been penalised two strokes after an accusation was made that he had received illegal assistance from his caddie in lining up a putt at the 17th. After a 20-minute inquiry the Royal and Ancient took no action. "I didn't know my caddie was standing behind me but he took no part in helping me with the putt," Webster said. "It was a bit of a let down after leading the Open and later an R and A official said they had to go into it and were sorry for upsetting me."

The leading amateur at the half-way stage, however, is the extraordinary Sherry, who outscored Watson and Greg Norman. The towering 21 year old from Kilmarnock had 71, Watson 76 and Norman 74. Watson had three double- bogey sixes and Norman a triple-bogey six at the 11th.

Paul Azinger drove the green at the last and then took four putts to miss the cut by one but at least he finished the round. The Irishman Philip Walton drove out of bounds at the 18th but was unaware he had done so until he reached his ball. Instead of returning to the tee he walked in.

As for Arnie, the Old Course has not quite seen the last of him. He will return in September to play in the R&A's autumn medal. "Since I played like an R and A member this week I might as well act like one," he said. The R and A will take it as a compliment.

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