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The 150th Open closes on an exciting note

You could feel the excitement building from the moment the first grandstand went up overlooking the 18th hole in April. The 150th Open was to be held in St Andrews on the historic Old Course, with a field of 156 golfers and a heatwave on the horizon. This year, there would be no washout.

After the first round, Rory McIlroy, on excellent form, said that “boring” golf was what was needed to secure his first major in 8 years. “Boring” golf was the opposite of what we got. Australian Cameron Smith, this year’s victor of the Claret Jug, played a magnificent 64-shot, eight-under-par final round to snatch the title from the Irishman, who was only able to play two-under. McIlroy’s partner in the overnight lead, Viktor Hovland, slipped down the order to 4th with a 74.

McIlroy’s score was still a good one, but he critically missed numerous birdie putts which would have lifted him well into contention, and at the least into a play-off. It was Smith’s exceptional final round after slipping back on the third day that teed up his first major win, rather than the errs of his rivals. He has been on excellent form, having won the PGA’s Player’s Championship earlier this year and finishing runner-up at the 2020 US Masters behind Dustin Johnson.

At the cut, golfing legend Tiger Woods failed to card a high enough score to continue, and yet was applauded by the crowd the full length of the 18th hole. He was visibly overcome, wiping away tears from under his cap as he prepared to play what could have been one of his last professional shots. With the next Open due to be held there in 2027, and Woods, at 46, possibly retiring soon, it is likely he has played his last professional game at one of his favourite courses. His comeback after a serious car accident in February last year has been remarkable, but not out of character for the man who had won his first major championship in eleven years at the 2019 US Masters. Having won two of his fifteen titles in St Andrews, the crowd’s affection for Tiger was evident.

Off the green, the words ‘LIV Golf’, continued to float around. Sponsored by the Saudi state’s Public Investment Fund, the breakaway series has drawn names such as Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Dustin Johnson and Sergio García, among others, with huge prize sums and a flexible playing schedule. Mickelson alone was paid a reported $200 million, just to sign up. The series has come under intense scrutiny from Amnesty International and other humanitarian groups as another example of sportswashing, where a country attempts to deflect international attention away from its record on human rights and criminal activity, and towards its sporting sponsorship and ventures.

LIV’s CEO Greg Norman, previously victorious at St Andrews, was absent, and his lack of invitation was seen by many as a snub. Yet the breakaway series’ influence continued to dominate headlines away from play throughout the week. After his victory, Cameron Smith bristled at a reporter’s enquiry as to whether he might join compatriot Norman but refused to shut down the possibility. As an emerging star, LIV will be determined to tempt Smith over, and the PGA and DP will be just as set on keeping him.

What the future of golf holds in this respect is uncertain, but what is for sure is the continued appeal of the PGA tour. A record 290,000 fans flocked to St Andrews from across the world, with many university students both spectating and working throughout the week. The home of golf was absolutely at its best, and as the wind-down begins, the town eagerly awaits the tour’s next visit.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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