— SOUTHPORT, England - For days leading into the 137th British Open, there were too many stories that revolved around the need to affix an asterisk to the results from Royal Birkdale.
I think the rationale had something to do with a certain player not being in the field. Kenny Perry perhaps? Or maybe it was Michelle Wie. It’s so hard to keep track.
But the point is what nonsense. Did we put an asterisk next to Horton Smith’s name at the 1934 Masters, signifying that Gene Sarazen chose instead to play an exhibition in South America and skipped the Bobby Jones party? Of course not. To even think of doing such a thing would be disrespectful.
Think about what some people were suggesting, though, when they indicated this year’s British Open should be noted as having been played without Tiger Woods. If they were serious, then why not take it a step further? Why not put asterisks next to all those major champions of 1998 and note that these were tournaments played while Woods went through some swing changes? Why not put a disclaimer next to the 2006 U.S. Open, because Woods was just coming back from a long period of mourning the death of his father? Oh, and why not throw the asterisk next to Trevor Immelman’s name so that it can be recorded for historical purposes that Woods putted like Sergio Garcia at the 2008 Masters?
The answer to all those questions: Be like Woody Austin and hit yourself in the head with a putter.
Woods played in 46 majors as a professional before he got hurt, and he won 14 of them. It’s a pretty good winning percentage. But it’s an even higher losing percentage, and there were plenty of major championships mixed in there that did not require the eventual winner to deal too much with Woods. (Did he impact the 2003 PGA Championship very much? Or the 2001 U.S. Open? Or the 1997 U.S. Open? No, no, and no. So, do you want to smudge the efforts of Shaun Micheel, Retief Goosen and Ernie Els?)
If you want to place an asterisk next to Padraig Harrington’s name as it relates to the 2008 British Open, then feel free. But what it should note is that he was the best player, but not necessarily the best story. Harrington more or less said it himself, not long after winning the claret jug for the second year in a row.
“I did say to him coming down 18 that I was sorry it wasn’t his story that was going to be told this evening,” said the Irishman, showing that in addition to his polished golf skills, he’s got a great deal of dignity and a firm grasp of history.
Of course, it would have been a marvelous story had Greg Norman won the British Open at the age of 53, some 10 years since he had pretty much walked away from full-time competition. The best player of his generation and a guy who made millions of dollars with every business venture he took on, Norman is also one of the biggest touch-luck losers the game has ever witnessed.
He won a lot, but should have won more. So overwhelming are the major championships he let get away that we tend to overlook the fact that he did somehow manage to win two British Opens.
The timing of Norman’s rejuvenation was impeccable. We wondered aloud what a major championship would be like without Woods and, as if on cue, we were ushered back onto the PGA Tour circa 1986-1996, when the dashing blond from Australia was the man, not Woods.
At the same time, David Duval was showing flashes of good form and so, too, was Anthony Kim validating all the hype that comes with him. Having never seen a links course, the 22-year-old got around in respectable trips of 72-74-71-75. Ernie Els, if only he could be given a mulligan for those nine inexplicable holes Thursday, might have challenged to win his second British Open, and Rocco Mediate, at least for two days, maintained the good vibes that made last month’s U.S. Open a memorable one.
All of this, of course, is in addition to the weather, which was quite spectacular. There have been days of wind and rain, especially at a British Open, but the gusts and the gales and the bursts of moisture the players encountered this time around was like nothing we have ever seen for four days. It was a remarkable challenge, especially Thursday, and duly noted in my notebook is the fact that a certain Irishman went out in the worst of the junk and came in later with a smile on his face and 74 next to his name.
Dripping wet (and some would suggest dripping mad), Harrington indicated he wouldn’t mind having another shot at Royal Birkdale in such horrendous weather. “I enjoyed the battle today,” he said. “I enjoyed going out there, and it really was a battle.”
The Irishman was good company for four days and his performance provided for a good story in a week that was filled with many of them, Norman’s script arguably being the best.
Would it have been a better setting with Woods? Probably yes, but maybe no. We’ll never know, of course, nor should any of us waste a minute of our time to think about it.
Instead, use your time to consider what should be done with that asterisk.
Golf doesn’t need it.