The small fry start thinking big

An odd couple found some success at last at Royal Lytham, says Andy Farrell

Andy Farrell
Sunday 21 July 1996 23:02

They would have made an odd couple down at the golf club, but the pairing of Carl Mason and Hidemichi Tanaka emphasised the point that this is the world's Open.

Mason is 43, the son of the pro at Goring and Streetly, and is the sort of man that the term "veteran tour player" was invented to describe. His Hogan cap has presided over a career of 23 years. Tanaka is a stylish 25-year-old from Hiroshima, who had not left Japan until he visited America earlier this year. To think his first impressions of England are staying in Blackpool and that the sun never stops shining.

Having won twice on his home circuit, Tanaka, whose caddie wears the plus-fours in their partnership, gained an exemption for the Open from the Japanese money list. In order to play in his 16th Open, Mason had to pre-qualify at St Annes Old Links a week ago. He squeezed in a shot above a playoff and celebrated at The Tap in Lytham along with the usual suspects. Notable among them was Richard Boxall, who won the same section and whose view on qualifying is that he wished he could get himself exempt.

Mason has similar views and if starting 10 shots behind Tom Lehman prohibited thoughts of the ultimate glory, remaining in the top 15 to earn a ticket for Royal Troon a year from now was the target. At the first, he started in Lehman mode (Saturday version) by rolling in a big putt. That was his 19th birdie of the week. But the debit side showed six bogeys and two triple-bogeys. It has been the 17th that has cost him.

The 467-yard hole dog-legs to the left and is lined by 20-odd bunkers, a few bushes and some of the more punitive rough on the course. Mason bogeyed the hole on Thursday, and then took a couple of sevens on Friday and Saturday. "Obviously, it's not my favourite hole," he said. "I really can't tell you what I'd like to do to it. I have been playing really well and I've never had an experience like it."

Mason seems to have caught a nasty dose of finishing hole-itis. It affected him at Carnoustie during the Scottish Open, powering to the top of the leaderboard and then dropping away swiftly, usually right on the first- edition newspaper deadlines. For three rounds at Lytham, he was 14 under for the first 16 holes, and nine over for the last two.

Still, at least he is playing golf. His arrival on the tour at the start of the year was delayed after his wife, Beryl, slipped on the ice on New Year's Eve and broke her ankle. Then in March, Mason's back went as he got out of his car at a petrol station and for five weeks he could not hit a ball, the longest spell away from the game in his career.

Yesterday he got his seven in early, at the par-five 11th where sand and rough took its toll again. At 17, he hit a beautiful one-iron, then put his second in a bunker and took three to get down: a bogey five. In all, he took 24 shots on the hole alone. A final-round 73 dropped him back to three under.

"It's been an excellent week. I've really enjoyed it," Mason said. "Apart from one hole. Eight over par on that hole speaks for itself. It was nice to be amongst it - several times. Unfortunately, I'm not going to make the top 15, but a couple of months ago I didn't think I would even be here. My game has been good over the last three weeks and I can take confidence from that."

As for Tanaka, he closed with a 75, which may have got less than the 20,000 out of 100 that he gave his opening 67. His manager, the one who had been carrying his bag, led him straight to the Japanese TV interviewer. The viewers at home probably wanted to know all about the Big Dipper.

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