Weather window opens for golf.
While we wait patiently for winter to move on, the professionals on the PGA Tour follow the sun. Last weekend they pitched up in Arizona. With the course in Stornoway closed for the best part of the last three weeks, it was painful to watch live televised coverage of the endless blue skies above Scottsdale, the home of the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
The self-styled “Greatest Show on Grass” may not be among the major events in the PGA golfing calendar but, as far as attendance is concerned, it is in a class of its own. In fact, it is one of the top sporting attractions in the world. This year, the tournament again set all sorts of records. The attendance on the Wednesday was the highest ever at over 83,000 – and the tournament proper did not begin until the following day. Almost 200,000 spectators on Friday was another record, as was the attendance of 216,818 on the following day, the highest ever single day total. By the time Gary Woodland sank a putt on the 18th to win the competition in a play-off with Chez Reavie, a new overall tournament record was set, with close to 720,000 fans passing through the turnstiles.
By way of comparison in the UK, Wimbledon is the most popular sporting event, attracting almost half a million tennis aficionados over two weeks every July. In golf, the record attendance at the Open Championship was set at Saint Andrews in 2000, when 239,000 fans saw Tiger Woods lift the Claret Jug.
For most golfers in Stornoway, the fewer people who watch them play, the better. Having a playing partner hovering over your shoulder on the putting green is more than enough attention. With only eight rounds remaining in the Car Hire Hebrides Winter League, every missed putt takes on more importance by the week. The new course layout has a par of 47 and, while there are birdie opportunities, there are plenty of holes that take on the guise of banana skins.
Last Saturday, the course was barely playable, the seemingly endless rainfall of the past month turning the fairways into sponge. Despite that, sunshine and very little wind helped towards low scoring. A two under par total was needed to earn points and, amongst the eight pairings posting nett 45 was the leading team of Andy Macdonald and Neil Rowlands. Their nett total did not tell the full story of a round that ended six under par gross and demonstrated that they are still capable of putting more distance between themselves and the chasing pack.
Four teams carded nett 44, picking up eight points apiece, but did not come close to the winning score of nett 41. Two pairings shared first place with the lowest nett score, each collecting fourteen points.
Stuart Beaufoy and Donald Stewart put together a steady outward half, their only slip being a bogey on the Ranol. Their round looked in danger of unravelling after a double bogey on the Redan but Stuart and Donald struck back quickly with a birdie on the Short. Finishing with a par meant earning more points in one outing than they had managed in the rest of the campaign put together.
Angus MacArthur and Neil MacIver had a quickfire start, picking up a birdie on their second hole, the Glen. Dropped shots, however, resulted in a two over par halfway total. A second birdie, on the Short, made a winning score a distinct possibility but a bogey on the Manor, their final hole, saw Angus and Neil settle for a share of the top spot.
In the overall Winter League table, Andy Macdonald and Neil Rowlands may have appeared to stretch their lead at the top with two points at the weekend but, instead, they are now only six points clear on 47 points. A level par gross round brought Pat Aird and Arthur Macintosh eight points and lifted them into the runner-up position on 41 points.
Paul Moorby and Robbie Ross remain in third place on 38 points, two ahead of Norrie “Tomsh” Macdonald and Murdo Maclennan.
Ken Galloway and John R Gillies are fifth on 35 points, one point ahead of Allan “Biddley” Macleod and Al “Greens” Macleod.
Three teams are locked on 33 points. Pete Middleton and Iain Moir are joined by Garry Murray and Eddie Rodgers and the Blacks, Michael and David. The top ten is completed by Colin Gilmour and John Morrison on 32 points.