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St Andrews golf is fascinatingly different and we have Aussies in the hunt

Well, how refreshing is this! Grey, not green fairways. Massive greens. Double greens. Balls running 75 metres plus.

Minimal fanfare; maximum tradition. Players that aren’t household names (yet). Greats of previous eras keeping up with the latest and greatest talents (the Big Easy making it look easy). An endless stream of par 4s, many drivable. This is the 150th Open Championship being played at Old Course St Andrews, not just another target-golf US PGA event. Don’t we love it. And this is before the wind picks up!

Watching the players contend with the subtlety of an almost 700-year-old golf course is fascinating.

Granted the course has changed a lot since then, but by all reports there are still a few holes and mounds and swales remaining. There is no target golf here. Land the ball and watch it run. Such a different mentality. And if you find yourself in one of the pot bunkers, be ready to hit it out backwards!

That kind of stuff plays with your mind.

And this place is special for another reason. Just rock up to the course on your own at 4am on a Wednesday in August and you will most likely get a game. The guys in the pro shop are actually nice.

There is zero pretension. I did just that in 2017. I’m a keen but massively flawed 10 marker that hits it very high, with a slight fade that gets destroyed by the wind. So I rocked up, praying for benign conditions… and got them.

I waited around for a few hours and was called up. There I was, standing on the first with my Dad and a very nice caddy who also happened to be a psychologist (a caddy is compulsory, to keep things moving and help you respect the course). What could possibly go wrong?

The tee shot off the first has to be one of the easiest in world golf… if you weren’t at the first at Old Course St Andrews. The fairway is about 300m wide. Hands shaking I managed to bunt it down the middle. With my caddy and Dad acting as counsellors and support I was off. By the time I hit my second shot into the 18th (I hit a three iron, the pros are driving the green) I was 76 off the stick. I knocked in the par putt to the respectful applause of a few tourists next to the green. 79 off the stick. The only time I have hit in the 70s. Ever.

Anyway, back to the real golf.

After the first round the relatively unknown Cameron Young (-8) leads Rory by 2 strokes. And the margin could have been wider given Young’s three put on the second par 5. Lining up for a gettable eagle he walked away with a par after missing a three footer. Don’t you hate that. Rory was on fire early racing to 4 under after 7 but still finishing with a creditable 66. Very few wouldn’t like to see him win this.

He seems like a thoroughly good bloke. Australia’s very own Mr Laidback, Cameron Smith carded a five under 67.

He’s probably the only world golfer with a penguin on his left breast. If he wins I’ll dig out my old light blue penguin shirt and wear it for the week.

I did some of my finest work in that shirt. Cameron has to be due soon in a major given his Top 5 and Top 10 finishes. And his putting. There are few courses in the world where you can be holding the flat stick 100m out. Cam did once on the back nine putting the ball to within 2 feet. He makes it look so easy.

The Australian Brad Kennedy shot a 68 to be well and truly in contention. He was 4 under after 6 but four bogeys held him back from what could have been something very low indeed. I don’t profess to know much about Brad but I hope we learn a lot more about him in the next three days. Min Woo Lee is also in the mix rounding out a pretty good day for the Aussies.

The Big Easy is in contention shooting a 2 under 70. The big bloke perhaps tired late in the day but was 5 under half way through the back nine. How good would it be to see him in contention on Sunday. If I was actually there on course I would have been following John Daly. Complete with fully grey bushman’s beard, his card contained almost all the colours of the rainbow. 11 of his 18 holes were not pars on route to a 1 over 73. Just imagine if he got close come Sunday.

Who could ever forget his Open win in 1995. How can you not love this bloke – the most un-British Open winner of all time. His touch around the greens in 1995 was something to behold… but he is known as a big hitter (“Long John”). Who could forget Constantino Rocca’s duffed chip on the 18th on Sunday only to be followed by an 18m putt to make birdie to force a play off. Rocca misses that putt Daly wins. Instead Daly had to lift himself back up and go to the play off which he duly won. I don’t know why but I feel so good just thinking about Daly winning the Open at St Andrews.

Other players of note include Tiger who shot 6 over and Aussie Marc Leishman (like Rory, another seemingly thoroughly good bloke) who, like Long John, shot just seven pars on his way to a 76. He has come so close at the Open. He needs something pretty special on Friday or he will have some spare time on the weekend.

As for the LIV players, one hopes they are soaking up the tradition and meaning behind the 150th Open because it doesn’t appear they will be experiencing much more of that anytime soon.

So strap yourself in. This tournament really means something. This is the home of golf. Three rounds to go. I’ll be bleary eyed come Monday.

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