SANDWICH, England -- For the last two decades there has been no "ten-shot" rule in the Open Championship. Back in 1991 at Royal Birkdale, only 46 of the 156-strong field failed to qualify for the final 36-holes, a fact that cost the R&A a small fortune in extra prize-money and subsequently led to a change in the regulation. Ever since, only the top-70 players and ties have made the halfway cut in the game's oldest event, no matter how many shots separated first from last.
Which is fine, at least until we get situations like we had here at Royal St. George's. Over the last two days Padraig Harrington, Lee Westwood, Ross Fisher, Ben Crane, Hunter Mahan and Justin Leonard -- to name but six -- shot four over par for 36-holes. Not terrible golf by any means. In fact, that score put all of those men -- and seven others -- within eight shots of the lead, a far from impossible deficit with 36 more holes to play over such an inherently unpredictable course.
But we'll never know if any of those players could have performed well enough to win the Open. Because the leading 71 players shot scores ranging only from 136 to 143, every one of those potential champions were eliminated. That stark statistic is bad enough, but it is made worse by the fact that it could so easily have been avoided. Sad to say, championship organizers the R&A are complicit in the creation of such an absurd situation.
Especially on day two -- and surely in reaction to the fact that as many as 35 players were under par after 18 holes -- the generally severe pin positions made it all but impossible for anyone to putt consistently for birdie from less than, say, 25 feet or so. In other words, it was highly unlikely that anyone was going to separate himself from the field. Which is exactly what happened.
Throw in the fact that modern equipment -- in particular large metal-headed drivers that have all but eliminated the snap-hook and tee-shots shorter than 270-yards at the top level of the game -- has also reduced the difference between best and worst, such "stalemates" are even more likely.
It's just wrong, so very, very wrong.
*-- John Huggan *